|Rebel Without a Cause (1955) | dir. Nicholas Ray | 111 min.|
Rebel Without a Cause was one of the biggest canonical films I kept putting off. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be a whole lot of “buzz off, Daddy-O” and other West Side Storyisms. And while I wasn’t entirely wrong it manages to go beyond that to make a great statement about the lack of communication and understanding between generations.
This is my first James Dean film and it’s completely understandable why he became such a star in such a short amount of time – he’s immensely watchable. Despite actually being twenty-five during filming, he perfectly captures the conflicted mind of a teenager. He understands the world better than his parents do, but also comes to find that he really doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. He can’t find a solution to his problems any better than his parents; none of the kids can.
Parts of the film do seem dated. I’m sure the obvious homosexual tension between Plato and Jim was a lot more shocking in 1955, whereas today it’s more normalized. Plato’s unreciprocated crush is still sad, especially seeing him hanging around while Jim and Judy are crawling all over each other, but it’s not quite scandalous in this day and age.
In general the whole white suburban leather-jacket gang trope has gotten stale. It’s been reduced to more of a joke by Grease and Fonzie. But while the shock is gone it’s still a great piece of entertainment, and the themes of disaffected youth are universal. Not to mention the beautiful Cinemascope cinematography that gives a curve to the edges of the screen, adding a layer of distortion to the atmosphere.
It’s also fun for some of the little details. Seeing a 19-year old Dennis Hopper is a surreal experience. And Dean’s famous “you’re tearing me apart” line becomes unintentionally funnier in a world where The Room exists. To be fair, Tommy Wiseau’s impersonation is spot on; he just doesn’t have the suaveness or inner-turmoil to pull it off like Dean.
Score: 81 (Good)