Film / Stand by Me

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"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
The Writer, finishing off his novel

Stand by Me is a 1986 Coming of Age film directed by Rob Reiner and based on the novella The Body, from the collection Different Seasons by Stephen King (Yes, THAT Stephen King). Set in the fictional Castle Rock, Oregon (Maine in the original story) in 1959, the film is told through the recollections of the main character, Gordie Lachance, now a freelance writer.

The twelve-year-old Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and his friends Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) journey into the woods near their home to look for the body of a boy named Ray Brower, who was struck by a train while picking berries. Through the boys' misadventures and conversations, the viewer learns about each character's personality. Each of the boys, for varying reasons, live in the shadow of their fathers and older brothers. Gordie's talent for storytelling (as illustrated by his improvised short story 'The Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan') pegs him as the most likely of the four to have a promising future.

The film contrasts the four main characters, who are depicted as well-meaning and relatively virtuous, with a gang of bullies called the 'Cobras', who are led by local hood 'Ace' Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland).

The incredible All-Star Cast featured, in addition to all of the above, John Cusack as Gordie's older brother and Richard Dreyfuss as adult Gordie in the Framing Device.

See 1995's Now and Then for basically the girl version.

Stand by Me contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Teddy's ear is disfigured due to his father's pressing it down on a hot stove in a drunken rage. Chris's father is also violently abusive, and Gordie's is emotionally abusive, clearly favoring Gordie's older brother over him, despite the fact that said brother is dead.
  • Adaptational Badass: Played straight and inverted with Gordie.
    • In the novella, Chris is the one who pulls the gun on Ace and threatens to kill him. In the film, it's done by Gordie.
    • On the other hand, in the novel Gordie is the one who pulls Teddy off the tracks when he is trying to dodge the train. In the movie it's Chris.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Chris, and his family, are shunned and put down by most of the town.
  • Angry Guard Dog: The legendary Chopper, who is said to be trained to attack with anatomical precision.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novella Ace and his gang only appear at the end after serving as a vague shadow over the kids.
  • Berserk Button: Teddy goes ballistic after Milo Pressman calls his father a "looney".
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: Subverted. Turns out, for all of their fears and all of the stories, the dog was never that bad.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Chris, towards Gordie.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Denny was this to Gordie.
    • Gordie's relationship with Denny was positive in the novella, but they weren't nearly as close as they are in the film and Denny isn't as outwardly loving to his kid brother. For example, Movie!Denny tries to bring up Gordie's accomplishments in dinnertime conversation with the parents, but no mention is made of Book!Denny doing the same.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gordie and Chris eventually stop hanging out with Teddy and Vern. Chris managed to be better than his family, but was killed while trying to break up a fight. And a grown up Gordie is an apparently wealthy writer and has a good relationship with his own son.
  • Boring Return Journey: Granted, they used a rough path on the main journey, but their return after the climax of the film is only glossed over. It's over in a single scene, and Gordie mentions "we barely spoke" on the way back anyways.
  • Bowdlerise: Some TV broadcasts change the final line visible on Gordie's computer monitor to remove the mention of God.
  • Butt-Monkey: Vern is overweight, emotionally sensitive, and rather easily scared. He gets this a lot, even from his friends.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally. The handgun that Chris shows Gordie before the boys start their trip is only used threateningly when Ace and his gang show up and Gordie(movie)/Chris(book) uses it to scare them off.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Teddy. He often says completely random things, and he has absolutely no regard for his personal safety.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Teddy. Gordie too, older self included.
  • Delinquents: Ace's gang to a T. They spend their days playing "mailbox baseball", playing chicken with truck drivers, driving drunk, and God knows what else.
  • Dies Wide Open: The late Ray Brower is found by the boys this way. They cover his face with debris.
  • Disaster Dominoes: In Gordie's campfire story, "Lard-Ass Hogan" gets revenge for being bullied by puking his guts out during a pie-eating contest, causing everyone around him to do the same.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Gordie defending himself against Ace and his switchblade knife, despite having just fired a shot (the hammer is cocked automatically by the slide when fired).
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Gordie's Nightmare Sequence (see below).
  • Dysfunction Junction: This film cracks the mask of the seemingly picture-perfect and wholesome Everytown, America of the 1950s open with a baseball bat.
  • Epic Fail: One of the other three kids says something along the lines of "You looked as scared as that fat guy in Abbott and Costello when they met the mummy" to Vern. The "fat guy" was Costello. Apparently, the kid can remember the comedy duo's name but not which is Abbott and which is Costello so rather than taking a stab at with a name he just referred to the man by their build.
  • Ethical Slut : Played with, in the Cobras' conversation.
    All she'll let me do is feel her tits.
    Ace: That's because she's a Catholic. They're all like that. If you wanna get laid, find yourself a Protestant. *Beat* Jew's good.
  • Expy: Gordie lost a brother, grew apart from his parents because of it, and became an author, similar to Bill Denbrough.
    • Ace is a knife-wielding sociopathic bully from the 50s, much like Henry Bowers.
  • Everybody Smokes: They're 12, but all of the main four smoke. Even the generally wholesome lead, and the timid chubby one. Actually pretty common given the setting of the late 1950s/early 1960s.
  • The '50s: Although the book takes place in 1960, the movie is set in the summer of 1959.
  • Foreshadowing: The "goocher" (all coins coming up Tails) is implied to have much more significance in the novella, especially considering how on the last coin toss, Chris, Vern and Teddy all flip a Tails again.
  • Four-Man Band
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble
    • Sanguine - Vern
    • Choleric - Teddy
    • Melancholic - Gordie
    • Phlegmatic - Chris
  • Framing Device/Nostalgic Narrator: The Writer (aka the adult Gordie, played by Richard Dreyfuss) recalls and narrates the events of the film after learning that Chris was stabbed to death while trying to break up a fight at a restaurant.
  • Free-Range Children: The kids are all on their own through most of the story traveling with only a days' worth of provisions. This is explained away by most of them coming from households full of some kind of neglect, so their parents aren't going to care.
  • Furry Confusion: Discussed Trope; the boys express confusion that both Goofy and Pluto appear to be dogs.
  • Gang of Bullies: The Cobras in typical fifties fashion.
  • Girly Run: Used by Wil Wheaton as an acting technique.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: This being the fifties, all the teens and kids smoke like chimneys with Ace and his gang naturally being the evil version. The amount of smoking is espcially surprising given that this is a Rob Reiner picture.
    • Handwaved by Word of God on the DVD commentary. The "cigarettes" were made of lettuce leaves.
  • Groin Attack: If there are worse places on the human body to find a leech, we can't think of them. No wonder Gordie faints.
    • "Chopper, sic balls!"
  • Hypothetical Fight Debate: The boys discuss whether Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman.
    Teddy: Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman is a real guy.
  • I'll Kill You!: Said by Teddy to Milo Pressman, and later by Gordie to Ace Merrill.
  • Instant Leech: Just Fall in Water!: The boys become covered in leeches when crossing the river to take a shortcut. Gordie even ends with one on his crotch, causing him to faint.
  • Jerkass:
    • Ace and his gang are the worst of them. They're a group of hardened deliquents who show no regard to the people they get hurt.
    • Milo, the junkyard owner, who doesn't see anything wrong with hurting children just for trespassing.
    • Teddy Duchamp zigzags between this and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Chris Chambers and Teddy Duchamp (arguably in the latter case). As insensitive as they get, they do care for each other and don't leave the others behind.
  • Karma Houdini: Ace and his gang get no immediate comeuppance for threatening Gordie and his friends with a knife.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The climax of the movie. Ace realizes that approaching the dead kid with a gun pointed at him by Chris (in the book) or Gordie (in the movie) is going to get him shot, and it's simply not worth it. Ace vows that the four boys are going to pay for it, though.
  • The Load: Vern, especially on the Railroad Tracks of Doom.
  • Lovable Jock: Denny was a star football player and flashbacks show him as an extremely nice and caring older brother and the only one, aside from Chris, who encouraged Gordie in his writing.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the night, the four boys hear piercing cries in the woods that might be a wildcat or some other animal....and might be Ray Brower's screaming ghost. Gordie, half in and out of sleep, sees—or thinks he sees—"something white and shapeless steal through the trees like a grotesquely ambulatory bedsheet." (Given that this is adapted from Stephen King story, there's no telling what it actually was.)
  • Meta Casting: Wil Wheaton, in an interview, posited this as a large part of the reason for the film's success:
    "Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played. I was awkward and nerdy and shy and uncomfortable in my own skin and really, really sensitive, and River was cool and really smart and passionate and even at that age kind of like a father figure to some of us, Jerry was one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life, either before or since, and Corey was unbelievably angry and in an incredible amount of pain and had an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.
  • The Millstone: Vern's cowardice had held the boys back several times. It also almost gets Gordie and himself run over by an oncoming train when he won't get up and run out of fear of falling off the bridge.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Gordie. This is a Stephen King adaptation, after all.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Gordie dreams of his father saying "Should've been you, Gordon," at Denny's funeral.
  • Noodle Incident: Gordie says to Chris, "Remember that time you saved [Teddy] in the tree?" (In the novella, that incident is vividly describednote , but in the film, it's not.)
  • Oh, Crap!: "TRAAAAAIN!"
  • Parental Favoritism: Gordie's parents visibly favored Denny over Gordie, to the point of barely acknowledging Gordie's existence at all.
  • Parental Issues:
    • Teddy and Chris have violently abusive parents. The former has a mentally ill father who almost killed him; the latter has an alcoholic father who always beats him up.
    • Gordie has emotionally abusive parents who treat him like The Unfavorite and his older brother is dead.
    • Only the hopelessly naive Verne has any semblance of a happy family, although (like Chris) he does have a jerkass older brother who is part of a Gang of Bullies.
  • Pinky Swear: Chris really really didn't know the gun was loaded.
  • Precision F-Strike: Sorta. He doesn't ACTUALLY say a swear, but the line is so spot-on that it FEELS like one of these.
    Gordie: "Suck my fat one, you cheap dime-store hood!"
  • Racing the Train: The boys race a train on foot.
  • Railroad to Horizon: Setting out on the journey.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: The bridge scene. Teddy and Chris make it across just fine, but Vern is so scared of falling that he crawls along the tracks with Gordie behind him. About halfway across, a train starts barreling towards them, at which point Vern and Gordie have to haul ass to make it across without being crushed.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: Ben E. King's classic "Stand By Me" song made the Top 10 chart all over again thanks to its use in the film.
  • Road Trip Plot: While none of the four boys are even old enough to drive, the whole movie is centered around their journey outside of Castle Rock to find a dead body.
  • Running Gag: "Two for flinching."
  • Sadist Teacher: One topic mentioned frequently throughout the first-half of the movie is how Chris stole money from the class. During a talk with Gordie, he reveals he'd given the money back to their teacher, but the teacher decided to spend the money on herself and still accuse Chris of stealing the money, knowing everyone would believe he did it due to his family's bad reputation.
    • Inverted in the story with the case of Mr. Brooks, who's "the biggest pussy in Castle Rock Elementary—he would just about cry if you sassed him back."
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Half the conversations the boys have.
    Vern: Do you think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?
    Teddy: What are you, cracked?...Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman is a real guy.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Gordie to Chris and Vern to Teddy.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy's father didn't quite entirely come back from WWII.
  • Shout-Out : To Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which Gordy feels like after he reads it.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Vern and Teddy. Vern dies in a house fire in the book, and Teddy kills himself and others by driving drunk. Both are still alive in the Framing Device of the movie. Chris also gets to live a bit longer in the movie than in the book. In the movie, he graduated from college and became a lawyer. In the book, he died the same way while still a student.
  • Steam Never Dies: It's highly unlikely that a railroad would still be using steam locomotives in 1959, unless it was a short line railroad.
  • Story Within a Story: "The Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan."
  • The Storyteller: Gordie, a young and imaginative writer.
  • Team Dad: Chris. Who is quick to comfort Gordie when he feels down.
  • Titled After the Song: After "The Body" was judged to be an unsuitable title—the studio was afraid moviegoers would think it was either about sex or bodybuilding—the title from the Ben E. King song was picked.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The scene where Teddy tries to dodge a train. Specifically, he stands in front of the tracks because he wants to dodge the train a few seconds before it speeds over him. Until Chris forcefully drags him off the tracks, with Teddy still angrily resisting.
    • When on the Railroad Tracks of Doom, Gordie and Vern (who is crawling on all fours at the time) end up having to outrun a train. Vern's reaction? Crawl faster.
    • As well as a few seconds later.
    Vern: I'm gonna fall!
    Gordie: WE'RE GONNA DIE, DAMMIT!
  • Totally Radical: Averted. Both King and Reiner grew up in the period in which it was set, and they realized that young kids tend to curse like sailors as they do here, especially when they're on their own.
  • Treehouse of Fun: The boys hang out in one of these at the beginning of the film.
  • Troll: Milo, when he taunts Teddy about his dad being a "loony".
  • True Companions: A quintessential example of the four friends who travel to find the body.
  • The Unfavorite: Gordie's parents never show much affection to him, preferring Gordie's older brother. In flashbacks, it shows they didn't pay much attention to him, anyway. As it is, Denny (the brother) was the one who paid the most attention to him.
  • Vomit Chain Reaction: The 'Lard-Ass' story.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The 'Lard-Ass' story.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Gordie desperately wants his father's love and not to feel like his father hates him.
  • We Will Meet Again: Ace says this after Gordie pulls the gun on him. While it's not depicted in the film, King's original story has Ace and his gang giving each of the boys a Curb-Stomp Battle after they return to town.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: While Ace has no problem threatening kids Gordie's age with knives, he thinks Gordie holding him and his friends at gunpoint is taking things too far.
    Ace: We're not gonna forget this, if that's what you're thinking. This is big time baby.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Gordie narrates everyone's fate at the end.
    • Chris became a successful lawyer and was recently stabbed while trying to break up a fight in restaurant.
    • Teddy was denied by the Army due to his eyesight and ear and was now an ex-con working odd jobs.
    • Vern gets married, has four kids and settles down with a simple job (dies in a house fire in the novella).
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: At the beginning of the movie, Chris, Teddy, and Gordie are sitting in their tree-house, playing cards, when Chris decides to tell a joke:
    Chris: How do you know if a Frenchman has been in your back yard?
    Teddy: Hey, I'm French, okay?
    Chris: Your garbage cans are empty and your dog's pregnant.
    [Chris and Gordie laugh]
    Teddy: Didn't I just say I was French?
  • Your Mom: Lampshaded by the adult Gordie's narration, in which he comments that "finding new and disgusting ways to insult a friend's mother was always held in high regard." Also played straight:
    Chris: Why don't you go home and fuck your mother some more?
    Ace: [pulls out a knife] You're dead.
    • Gordie pulls out a nice one to smack a children's rhyme in the face.
    Gordie: Shut up.
    Chris, Teddy, and Vern, in unison: I don't shut up! I grow up! And when I look at you, I throw up! AACCKK!
    Gordie: And then your mother comes and licks it up.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: The inescapable knowledge that his parents cared much more about Denny than they ever have about him leads Gordie to dream about his father telling him, "It should have been you, Gordon."

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/StandByMe