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The Vault: Rebel Without A Cause

Rebel Without A Cause is made for a certain generation. One that was desperately in search of a hero, a patron saint, a man who could obtain freedom and show expressing yourself is the key of life. James Dean, in 1955 and throughout the 50’s and 60’s, was that hero. 

However, it is with great melancholy that Nicolas Ray’s touted and beloved classic is a deplorable, languid mess of a picture.

The film follows Jim Stark (Dean) a rebellious teenager, upset with everything and everyone. Particularly his father Frank (Jim Backus): a symbolic character, who represents Stark’s quest for manhood and integrity (neither of which his apron wearing father contains).

Written by Stewart Stern and adapted by Irving Shulman’s novel by the same name, the plot in Rebel Without A Cause is not only scarce, but irrelevant. There’s next to nothing in quantity and quality in the film. Perhaps that’s on purpose, though.

The film is not so much lacking purpose, as it is perplexed in it its way of direction. Ironically it represents Jim in every which way. A soft-spoken teen, fussed about nothing too serious, but is tired and discontent with his surroundings. All the characters consistently acknowledge their problems – yet none can ever quite eloquently articulate it.

Beyond Jim’s life of discontempt, is a plethora of hyperbolic symbols vividly captured in the film. For instance, during the first day of school Jim meets John ‘Plato’ Crawford (played by Sal Mineo) a teen seeking for any resemblance of a friend. The two instantly strike up a friendship. The undertones lie with their mutual comfort. Perhaps purposely concocted, the film displays clear signs of homosexuality for Plato – who clearly is infatuated with Jim.

Does Jim share mutual feelings? Not likely. Especially when he meets the mysterious Judy (played with great angst by Natalie Wood).

James Dean and Natalie Wood star in "Rebel Without A Cause"
In resemblance of a Shakespearean play, the two instantaneously gravitate towards each other. Star crossed lovers. Lonely hearts in search of endearing counterparts. Love or infatuation, it doesn’t matter. At last they’ve found… someone.

And albeit all its brilliant qualities, Rebel Without A Cause is far too sporadically plotted to be considered delightfully spontaneous – it’s merely exposition, absurd action, and vapid consequences.

Surely it makes valid social commentary on rebellious teens in Suburbia and the fight for uniqueness. Within doing such, though, Nicolas Ray simply does construct a consistently interesting endeavor.

I understand such films like Rebel Without A Cause are touchy subjects for a great deal of people. It represented an era and a sort of cultural attitude–and that is forever noteworthy.

Regardless, the film is supremely dated, unequivocally incoherent, and lacking the animosity that, at the time, made for such upheaval and praise.

Great films stand the test of time. Configure and adapt within their screenplays to remain contemporary. Rebel Without A Cause wallows in obnoxious tyrants and teens that are far more obsessed with manhood than dignity.

✭✭ out of ✭✭✭✭

You can read all my writing at Duke & The Movies and follow me on twitter @DukeSensation 


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