Film: Stand by Me

"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. 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).

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.
  • 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.
  • Author Stand-In: Gordie Lachance, the sensitive and imaginative boy Stephen King used to be.
  • Battle in the Rain: well, not much of a battle, but in the book the final confrontation between the four friends and the older boys at the site of the corps takes place during a rainstorm, while in the movie it's a bright and sunny day.
  • Berserk Button: Teddy goes ballistic after Milo Pressman calls his father a "looney".
  • Beware Of Vicious Dog: Subverted.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Chris, towards Gordie.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Denny was this to Gordie.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Ace.
  • Boring Return Journey: Granted, they used a rough path on the main journey.
  • Bowdlerise: Some TV broadcasts change the final line visible on Gordie's computer monitor to remove the mention of God.
  • Butt Monkey: Vern.
  • Call Forward: In the novella, it's mentioned that Chopper was the most feared dog in the county until Cujo went rabid 20 years later.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally. The handgun that Chris shows Gordie before the boys start their trip is forgotten until Ace and his gang show up and Gordie(movie)/Chris(book) uses it to scare them off.
    • Not quite. The kids each brandish the pistol when they take turns keeping watch at night.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Teddy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Teddy.
  • Dies Wide Open: The late Ray Brower is found by the boys this way. They cover his face with debris.
  • 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).
  • Dysfunction Junction: This film cracks the mask of the seemingly picture-perfect and wholesome Everytown, America of the 1950s open with a baseball bat.
  • 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.
  • The Fifties: Although the book takes place in 1960, the movie is set in the summer of 1959.
  • Four-Man Band
  • 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
  • Furry Confusion: The boys express confusion that both Goofy and Pluto appear to be dogs.
  • Gang Of Bullies
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Jerkass: Teddy Duchamp, Milo, and Ace's gang.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Chris Chambers.
  • Karma Houdini: Ace and his gang unfortunately.
    • In the novella, and in later works set in Castle Rock, we do learn that Ace's life doesn't amount to a hill of beans, so there's that. And he does end up dying in Needful Things.
  • The Load / The Millstone: 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.
  • 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.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Gordie. This is a Stephen King adaptation, after all.
  • Nightmare Sequence: In The Body, Gordie dreams that Vern and Teddy drag Chris into water and drown him.
    • Also, in the film, 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 described, but in the film, it's not.)
  • Oh, Crap: "TRAAAAAIN!"
  • Parental Abandonment: Only the hopelessly naive Verne has any semblance of a happy family.
    • Although he does have a jerkass older brother.
    • Gordie's parents barely can bring themselves to respond to his presence, and the novella makes it clear that this is not something that started after Denny's death - Gordie once swore at the dinner table just to see what would happen ("Please pass those goddamn spuds."), and the only response was his mother telling Denny that his aunt asked how he was doing.
  • 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 film has the boys racing a train on foot.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: The bridge.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: Ben E. King's classic actually made the Top 10 chart all over again thanks to its use in the film.
  • Road Movie
  • 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. In the book, there is a different example of one teacher who was rumoured to have struck a child blind.
  • 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 and Chris; Vern and Teddy.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy's father.
  • Shout-Out : To Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which Gordy feels like after he reads it.
  • Space Whale Aesop: The book definitely has this. Don't go looking for dead bodies or you will acquire a death curse. But then, the book The Body was written by Stephen King. The film Stand by Me would cause you to forget that it is based on a book written by the horror master himself.
  • 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. Though alive in the movie, their lives have gone absolutely nowhere.note 
  • The Storyteller: Gordie.
  • Team Dad: Chris.
  • 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!!!
  • Totally Radical: Averted. Both King and Reiner grew up in the period in which it was set, giving them knowledge of it and they realized that young kids tend to curse like sailors as they do here.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • It's even worse in the book - Denny is a loving older brother in the movie, but in the book he doesn't interact much with Gordie, as they are 10 years apart in age, so there isn't much chance for it.
  • 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
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Gordie's parents prefer his brother the football star, and when the brother dies in a car crash they lament that it wasn't Gordie instead. Although the "You Should Have Died Instead" factor is only implied in a dream sequence. True, they both criminally ignore Gordie after the accident, but they never go that far.
  • You Know I'm French, 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Stand By Me