The Academy Award-winning film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), is James Dean’s most memorable film. It was released about a month after Dean’s death. Directed by Nicholas Ray, the film depicts the difference between generations and tackles teenage angst in its purest form. The film elevated James Dean to his iconic celebrity status.
The story of Rebel Without a Cause has been replicated many times. It essentially provides a formula for the typical teen flick: A rebellious teen moves to a new town, has trouble at home, befriends a couple of misfits, and undergoes issues with bullies and growing up. To modern viewers, the film might seem cliché and predictable. But in the 50s, it was entirely new territory.
At the time of its release, Rebel Without a Cause was relatable to its teenage audience for many reasons, specifically for the problems teens faced in their home lives. Jim Stark (Dean) has to deal with his parents’ constant fighting. Whereas John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo) deals with not having his parents around. Ultimately, their home lives fuel their angst.
Rebel Without a Cause confronts the unfortunate outcomes of peer pressure. After Jim moves to a new town, he’s pressured into drag racing by Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) to prove that he isn’t “chicken.” Judy (Natalie Wood) says she was pressured into ignoring Jim. Although the film was released in 1955, its portrayal of peer pressure is still relevant to modern society. Despite Jim’s unruly attitude, we can see how teens will do almost anything to be accepted.
Since Jim, Judy, and Plato all have problems at home, they form their own makeshift family. In a memorable scene, the three teens rest in an abandoned mansion after they escape their troubles at home. To Jim, the three of them have found a sanctuary in their friendship.
Through its emotional scenes, the film evokes sympathy towards Jim, Judy, and Plato. Another notable scene occurs when Jim pleads to his father, Frank Stark (Jim Backus), and cries, “Stand up for me, dad.”
Although Rebel Without a Cause is predictable to the modern viewer, it deals with important issues that remain prevalent in the present. The film is a timeless classic that shouldn’t be missed.