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shrubbery's avatar

Will you please help me to understand Rebel Without a Cause?

Asked by shrubbery (10321points) September 14th, 2008

I watched this 1955 movie the other day, after reading a quote on the back of the DVD case telling me it was in the top 100 films of all time, and I knew of James Dean and his tragic death, but had not yet seen one of his films.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve grown up in a completely different time frame with different social expectations and situations and rules, but I had a little bit of trouble understanding things.

I don’t understand why they are so upset with their lives. So they might have a reason to be a bit annoyed, what with moving all the time and a daddy who won’t kiss her now she’s 16 because he thinks it’s embarrassing for a lady, but I mean the way they go on about it it’s as if their situations are the worst in the world and they’re so unlucky. Can’t they be grateful they have a loving family (even if they don’t show it they way the kids want) and a good home and food and money…?

What was with “Plato”? Why did he have a picture of James Dean in his locker before James’ character had even come to school? Was he just a very big admirer or did he like like James Dean? I didn’t even know they brought attention to stuff like that back then, if he was “gay”.

Almost all of the film took place in one night, yet the two main characters are “in love” already? And this is straight after the girls’ boyfriend was killed, which was also partly the boys fault?

Would they really have been allowed to yell at their parents and just run off like that? The girls’ parents didn’t even go looking or call the police (as far as I understood). I wouldn’t have gotten away with it even now, and this was the 50s…

So was this realistic, did this actually relate to people at the time it came out, or was it just an exaggeration?

I’m really intrigued by this movie and would really like to hear your opinions on it. Feel free to elaborate and add anything else besides the points I have mentioned above, I’ve probably forgotten a few things.

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9 Answers

JackAdams's avatar

I’m familiar with some of the movie, but not nearly as much as you appear to be, so I really can’t provide you with much input about it.

However, there is a website where folks discuss only this movie, and that is probably where you might find the answers you are seeking, because the others on that forum are zealously devoted to that film

Heres the link where you can go, to get started discussing it:

I hope that helps you find the answers to the questions you are asking.

shrubbery's avatar

I didn’t think to look there, thanks Jack.

And my bad, it wasn’t a picture of James Dean on his locker. It was Alan Ladd, apparently, whoever that is.

One other thing, why was being called “chicken” such a bad insult and why did he react so violently to it?

JackAdams's avatar

First, Alan Ladd was a famous American actor, probably best known for his appearance in a 1953 movie called, Shane. If you get a chance to see that movie, you might like it. I would certainly recommend that anyone watch it.

Now, the word chicken is sometimes used to describe a cowardly or fearful person, and in films of that era (1950s) to call a person by such a name (in America, at least) was one of the worst insults imaginable, because, as any farm kid will tell you, a chicken is a mostly flightless bird who will run away from anything and anyone. So, to be insulted in such a fashion (in the movies) dictated that the person being ripped would have to do whatever he was being goaded into doing, to defend his personal honor, and to prove to any/all onlookers that the epithet was clearly undeserved.

Sometimes, the response to such an insult, was that the speaker ended up with a bloody nose, a swollen lip, a blackened eye (or various combinations of all three), after he stood up from being knocked on his butt.

In the movie, Jim Stark didn’t wish to lose the respect of his peer group, so, in an act of face- saving, he allowed himself to be goaded into the drag race.

Such is an oft-times repeated movie plot, which never seems to lose its effectiveness at getting a protagonist to perform a certain task or feat of daring.

Lightlyseared's avatar

I didn’t think Plato was supposed to be gay rather he sees Jim as the father figure he doesn’t have.

PupnTaco's avatar

So then why did he smell Jim’s jacket?

Lightlyseared's avatar

er…well… you got me there.

JackAdams's avatar

See how much fun you’re having right here, Shrub?

Aren’t you glad YOU use Fluther? Don’t you wish everbody did?™

cyndyh's avatar

There was definitely a boy-crush there. If you look at a lot of movies at the time you can see gay characters sort of alluded to, but even if that was the point of a movie it wouldn’t be discussed outright.

I think a lot of the point of the movie was an exaggerated teen angst where love can happen in one night and all of life is about immediate intense feelings.

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