Rebel Without A Cause (1956) movie review [re-watch]

I recently convinced my partner to watch the James Dean classic, Rebel Without A Cause, with me; being a big fan of Dean I was more than excited to cuddle and re-watch the late actor’s most famous role.

This 50’s classic follows three misguided teens over the span of one night (besides the first 20-ish minutes of the feature that takes place a few nights earlier in a police station at 1AM) as they find themselves entangled in the death of another high school student during a “chickie-run”. Dean’s character, Jim, has recently moved to town with his family after he was in a large fight with other students from his previous school; though not wanting to get into any similar situations in this new town, to save his family from repeating the grief he’s brought them, he is unfortunately seen as a fun target for a gang to pick a fight with. From there, we follow our protagonist as he attempts to correct his wrong-doings.

Left to right: Plato (Sal Mineo) and Jim (James Dean); click the image above to view a clip from the feature.

Honestly, if you haven’t seen it, you really should. While the plot may not sound hugely interesting to some, I would go as far to say that this feature has made itself timeless, with or without the infamous death of Dean. Though much has obviously changed in society and some behaviours in teens and young adults, the three main characters in this -Jim, Plato and Judy- are each portrayed so well that there’s a lot to each that many could still find very relate-able; Jim, the young misfit who attracts trouble wherever he goes – finding himself constantly misguided by a father who can’t stand up for himself and a mother who would rather run away from the family’s problems; John (aka ‘Plato’), whose father left at a young age and mother often goes on holiday alone, leaving Plato to be raised by the housemaid, and yearn for a real connection with someone close; and Judy, who finds little affection from her parents now she’s reaching maturity, leading her to act out as a way to grasp for their attention.

What I really love about these characters is that, while on the outside they may not sound like someone you can identify with (mostly because of the actions that occur over the duration), they each show strong emotion and speak lines that really cut through to the audience at different points. Whether you’ve already passed your adolescence or are still going through it, this film will make you feel like your teenage years weren’t spent feeling things that were unjustifiable (whether it be because of hormones or circumstances – as both are factors to take into consideration when a teenager or young adult reacts to a situation), as it will bring you a sense of homely connection, as well as giving you a deeper view of how to handle un-idealistic situations.

(There will be a few spoilers from here, so continue reading at your own risk.)

While I don’t want the plot to go unnoticed, I’d argue that the characters’ personalities really play into the plot a lot; while that may seem obvious to any film, it is more of a case here as some of the scenes -specifically the ending- would have played out completely differently in a scenario where the main trio had different motives. For example, when Plato runs away to join Jim and Judy in the abandoned mansion to hide from the gang that’s after them, the three of them could have attempted to explain the situation when the others found them if Plato hadn’t have brought his mother’s gun with him – which leads to the police chasing him; or if Judy hadn’t run away one night, leading to her and Jim being in the police station together at the beginning, would Jim have been as interested in befriending her when he next saw her on the way to school? Each of the main characters’ back stories really tie-in and shape how the film turns out.

All-in-all, if you haven’t seen it, I’d really advise you check it out – it’s one of the few films that I believe everyone should witness at some point in their lives.

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