Film: Rebel Without a Cause

Misfit best buddies, '50s style!
"You're tearing me apart!"
Jim Stark

Teen drama from The Fifties in which James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo deal with Angst. Notably averts the Teens Are Monsters mindset of the era. The film is directed by Nicholas Ray.

Dean is Jim Stark, a Troubled, but Cute 17-year-old with a messed-up home life. His mother (Ann Doran) prefers to move whenever a problem comes up rather than confront it and his father (Jim Backus) is a Henpecked Husband who lets her do as she pleases. As a result, the Starks are constantly moving around and have just arrived in Los Angeles as the film opens. At his new High School, Jim befriends John "Plato" Crawford (Mineo), an Ambiguously Gay innocent. Jim immediately finds himself up against Buzz (Corey Allen), the local Jerk Jock, but takes somewhat more kindly to Buzz's girlfriend Judy (Wood). Needless to say, she later becomes Jim's girlfriend. Most of the movie takes place on a night after a chicken race gone horribly wrong.

There is a "Rebel Without A Cause curse". The film's three main stars (Dean, Wood and Mineo) all met tragic deaths at a young age, Dean before the film even opened.note 


Provides Examples Of:

  • Adults Are Useless: In some scenes.
  • Berserk Button: You shouldn't have called him 'chicken.'
  • Bury Your Gays: Being only implied to be gay doesn't protect Plato from this trope.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Jim. "You're tearing me apart!"; "I got the bullets!" Everyone else occasionally chips in as well. Of note is Judy's reaction when the phone rings.
  • Color Motif: Red is a reoccuring color throughout the movie. Jim's iconic red jacket and Judy's red lipstick both represent their disconnection with society and lack of strong role models. Theres even a subtle case with Buzz right before the game of chicken that leads to his death. Before they do it, Jim asks Buzz something the lines of "Why are we doing this?" and Buzz, responding with something along the lines of "What else is there to do?" opens his jacket up while shrugging, and you can see the inside is red showing they are Not So Different.
  • Cool Loser: James Dean is a high school outcast.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Jim can be counted on to the opposite of anything an adult says. Now, if his putz of a father was strong enough to fend off his wife, his son might be capable of being a respectable member of adult society — but not in this lifetime.
  • Cosmic Horror: The Planetarium sequence is entirely filled with this. The light show and cold scientist voice assures the young audience that the universe is vast and empty and human lives and civilization is meaningless in the long run.
    Plato: Tell me Jim, will the end of the world come at night time?
    Jim Stark: No, at dawn.
  • Covers Always Lie: Jim is portrayed as a violent and menacing, if not downright villainous, figure in the promotional posters, no doubt to capitalize on the fact that All Girls Want Bad Boys. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. See Nice Guy for more details.
  • Cymbal-Banging Monkey
  • The Danza: Jim is a nickname for James.
  • Deconstruction: Possibly of teen delinquency films of The Fifties and also the generation gap between the "Greatest Generation" and the "Baby Boom" though neither of the terms existed at the time. Showing that children who live under the shadow of the atomic bomb and a formless universe and the lack of a great cause to fight war, no longer quite connect to their parents generation.
  • Delinquents
  • Downer Ending
    • Bittersweet Ending: Plato is dead but Jim's dad vows to be a stronger dad from now on and Jim's parents seem to be on the road to being better parents.
  • Dysfunction Junction: American families are dysfunctional, teenage gangs are dysfunctional and the alternative idea of community of friends where Jim, Judy and Plato briefly engage for a few hours falls apart in confusion and mayhem because Humans Are Flawed. Rebel Without A Cause anticipated both The Sixties and the end of the sixties.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Jim, Judy, and Plato are all hauled in by the cops at the same time, with their interviews revealing their problems at home.
  • Existentialism: Rebel was one of the few mainstream American films to explore this concept. The Planetarium sequence entirely revolves around this. The universe is vast and empty, Earth is just a tiny part of this unfathomable vastness and if and when the world ends, it will not be missed in the wider cosmos, Adults Are Useless and children more or less have to turn to each other to form their own community, first in self-destructive gang fights, and later a community of friends that still end up falling apart because of their own confusion and jealousy.
    Jim Stark: If only I had one day in my life where I didn't feel confused, where I felt like I belonged.
  • Game of Chicken: Between Buzz and Jim. The game (called "chickie run") is to drive towards the edge of a cliff and see who will jump out first.
  • Henpecked Husband: Mr. Frank Stark, Jim's dad.
  • In Name Only: Other than the title, the film nothing to do with the 1944 nonfiction book Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. The producers liked the title and took nothing else.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The kid that Plato shoots in the mansion. Sure, he was shot in the chest. He was also trying to help corner and possibly kill Plato and/or Jim.
  • Knife Fight: Between Buzz amd Jim. One of the earliest depictions, at least in a delinquent youth context.
  • Lap Pillow: Jim and Judy, as seen in the above screenshot.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted in the ending.
  • Nice Guy: In stark contrast to how to promotions made him out to be, Jim is a decent, gentle, sensitive and kindhearted boy who unhesitatingly befriends and stands up for the meek Plato on his first day of school, takes care of people who have shown him kindness, and has enough of a conscience left that he practically leapt to take responsibility for the death of his drag-race opponent... though still narcissistic enough to expect to cut to the front of the line at the precinct.
  • Nobody Calls Me Chicken
  • No Name Given: Judy's last name is not revealed.
  • Parental Abandonment: Plato's father left when he was still an infant, and his mother is always going on out-of-town trips, leaving him in a black housekeeper's care.
  • Parental Incest: Subverted with Judy and her father, in that the attempts to deny even the appearance of incest destroy the normal expressions of affection. He refuses to show affection for Judy, stating that she's "getting too old for that kind of stuff", and when she kisses him, he slaps her.
  • Pop the Tires: Buzz does it to Jim' car with a knife to provoke Jim. This eventually leads to a Knife Fight.
  • Pretty in Mink: Jim's mother and grandmother wear mink wraps.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ray Fremick, whose first name is the last name of the film's director, Nicholas Ray. Coincidence? You decide.
  • Rebel Relaxation: Trope Namer.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Plato and Jim.
  • Shoot the Dog: In his first appearance, Plato is at the police station for literally shooting puppies.
  • Sleeping Single: Judy's parents, as you can see here.
  • Suicide by Cop: Plato
  • Teens Are Monsters: But only because there are no adults to properly guide them. Or as the film shows, the teenagers have unrealistic expectations about their parents which they cannot really fulfill and the parents are forced to embody that unrealistic concept because of the generation gap. It's about people realizing that Humans Are Flawed.
  • Tender Tears: Jim weeping for the death of Plato.
  • Token Trio: The three leads.
  • True Companions: Jim, Judy and Plato, as seen in the above screen shot.
  • Unbuilt Trope: This film was critical of the Teens Are Monsters trope right as it took form in The Fifties. It's also a good deal more serious than the teenage movies that followed.
  • Worthy Opponent: Deliberately parodied in this legendary exchange between Buzz and Jim:
    Buzz: I like you.
    Jim: Then why are we doing this?
    Buzz: You've got to do ''some''thing.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb

Alternative Title(s):

Rebel Without A Cause