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Film / Stand by Me

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"No I won't be afraid, oh I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, 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 American Coming of Age film directed by Rob Reiner, based on the novella The Body from the collection Different Seasons by Stephen King. Set in fictional Castle Rock, Oregon (Maine in the original story) in 1959, the film is told through the recollections of its main character, Gordie Lachance, who's now a freelance writer.

Over Labor Day weekend, 12-year-old Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and his friends Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) decide to 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. Each of the boys, for various 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.

During the course of the film, the viewer comes to learn about the boys' personalities through their misadventures and conversations. The foursome is also contrasted with a gang of older bullies called the 'Cobras', led by local hood 'Ace' Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland).

The incredible All-Star Cast featureds in addition to all of the above, John Cusack as Gordie's older brother Denny and Richard Dreyfuss as adult Gordie (aka "The Writer") in the Framing Device.

See 1995's Now and Then for basically the girl version, and 1993's The Sandlot for a sanitized, sports-centric version.

Stand by Me provides 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.
  • Actor Allusion: Quidaciolu's, the grocery store that Gordie stops in for supplies. The store owner is played by Bruno Quidaciolu, better known by his screen name Bruce Kirby.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Stand By Me is an adaptation of the novella "The Body".
  • Adaptational Badass: Zigzagged 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.
  • Adapted Out : Only Chris and his older brother Eyeball are mentioned, not his mother nor his other siblings, older brother Frank who went to jail for raping a woman and three younger ones.
    • Also adapted out were two additional boys in Gordie's group of friends; brothers John and Marty De Spain, who were away visiting family in another state during the events of the book, with the movie just focusing (obviously) on the main four.
  • 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. When we see finally him, he's actually a pretty harmless-looking retriever, and his ferocious reputation is implied to be just rumour.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novella, Ace and his gang only appear at the end after serving as a vague shadow over the kids. In the film, they're more direct antagonists.
  • Barbaric Bully: Defied. Ace is about to cut open Chris with a switchblade to get the body. But Gordie pulling a gun on Ace convinces Ace to back down.
  • 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 Bully:
    • Eyeball Chambers is verbally abusive to his little brother, Chris. It's even worse in the novella, where Eyeball doesn't hesitate to beat Chris to a bloody pulp and break his arm.
    • Billy Tessio is implied to be this to Vern. In their only interaction, he threatens to beat him up and Vern seems afraid of him (but to be fair, he's scared of everything). In the last scene Billy starts taking off his belt but is stopped by Ace, heavily implying he would whip the hell out of Vern given the chance.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Chris, towards Gordie.
    Chris: Kids lose everything unless there's someone there to look out for them. And if your parents are too fucked up to do it, then maybe I should.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Denny was this to Gordie, moreso in the movie, where he makes a point of praising a story Gordie wrote in front of their parents, trying to get them to appreciate the younger brother a bit more.
  • 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.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with The Writer observing two boys cycling, while reading the newspaper article about Chris. It ends with The Writer concluding his memoir inspired by the article and then leaving with two boys: his son and presumably the son's best friend.
  • Boring Return Journey: Granted, they used a rough path on the main journey, but the return of the four main characters after the climax is only glossed over. It's 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, not very bright, and rather easily scared. He gets picked on a lot, even from his friends.
    • Gordie, to a lesser extent. After he loses a coin toss, he must buy food for all the others and then run from Angry Guard Dog Chopper through the junkyard. He was behind Vern in the Railroad Tracks of Doom and is nearly run over by a passing train. In the swamp scene, he's the only one who ends up with a leech in his pants... and faints.
  • 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 uses it to scare them off.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Teddy. He often says completely random things, and he has absolutely no regard for his personal safety. He seems to have a bit of second-hand PTSD from his Shell-Shocked Veteran father.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Teddy to Pressman.
    Teddy: I'm gonna rip your head off and shit down your neck!
  • Deadly Distant Finale: The movie begins with Gordie, now in his middle age, discovering Chris was murdered a day ago.
  • 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. The main gang of kids are a downplayed example, who smoke and swear and get into trouble.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While Ace is clearly a complete amoral sociopath, the other members of his gang are just run-of-the-mill hoodlums, bullies, and troublemakers who clearly aren't happy with some of Ace's more reckless and outright criminal behavior, but go along with it out of cowardice and peer pressure.
    • "Eyeball" Chambers protests when Ace tries to kill his brother, but is too afraid of Ace to do anything about it.
    • Charlie wants to do the right thing and report the dead body to the police but is bullied into submission by Billy.
  • Everybody Smokes: This being the fifties, all the teens and kids smoke like chimneys. The amount of smoking is especially surprising given that this is a Rob Reiner picture (though he points out on the DVD commentary that the props used were fake).
  • 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 - and Vern and Teddy also die early in the book.
  • Four-Man Band
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble
    • Sanguine - Vern, generally the most awkward of the boys, well-meaning but often picked on.
    • Choleric - Teddy, confident and witty while also extremely temperamental at times.
    • Melancholic - Gordie, friendly and supportive, but still suffering from the loss of his beloved older brother.
    • Phlegmatic - Chris, dealing with his own insecurities, but perceptive and supportive when it comes to Gordie's.
  • Framing Device: 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, but only Goofy is at all anthropomorphic.
  • Gang of Bullies: The Cobras in typical fifties fashion.
  • Girly Run: Used by Wil Wheaton as an acting technique.
  • Groin Attack: If there are worse places on the human body to find a leech than on the crotch, it's hard to think of one. No wonder Gordie faints after finding it.
    • "Chopper, sic balls!"
  • Hypocritical Humor: In Gordie's Story Within a Story, the morbidly obese woman who calls Davy "Lard-Ass".
    • Teddy teasing Vern with "pussy" in the exact same way that the junkman teased him with "looney".
  • 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 delinquents who show no regard toward the people they hurt. Ace in particular goes beyond Jerkass into psychopath territory - the rest of his gang are thugs, but Ace is willing to commit murder.
    • Milo, the junkyard owner, who doesn't see anything wrong with hurting children just for trespassing and mocking them over things that should be off-limits.
    • Teddy Duchamp zigzags between this and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Karma Houdini: Ace and his gang get no immediate comeuppance for all of the things they pull, including threatening Gordie and his friends with a knife in the climax. Ace's threat of "we're going to get you for this" even pays off in the book (though he doesn't use the knife, he just beats Gordie up pretty badly. In this movie, the climax is the last time Ace and his gang are seen onscreen.
    • However, the novella mentions that Ace is a Future Loser , i.e. an obese, marginally employed nobody in the town decades later.
    • Further Zig-Zagged when Ace turns up again in Needful Things. A coke habit took care of the excess weight, he becomes a hired thug for Gaunt, and is eventually shot dead in the book's climax.
  • Kids Are Cruel: A major motif throughout. Even the sympathetic leads can be pretty mean at times.
  • 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.
    • A more direct version in the card game during the opening scene. Gordie throws down his hand in disgust, and Chris and Teddy seem to forget about the game entirely when Vern delivers his news about the dead body.
  • The Load: Vern is often a liability on the trip, most notably his "crawl" on the railroad track nearly causes his own death as well as Gordie's, as well as lesser failures such as contributing a few cents to the grocery trip and often lagging behind the rest.
    • Teddy at times too, on account of his emotional instability.
  • 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.
  • Mailbox Baseball: One scene has Ace and his friends driving around town while smashing other people's mailboxes.
  • 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 a Stephen King story, there's no telling what it actually was, although the movie implies it was nothing more than wolves and coyotes howling.
  • 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 holds the boys back several times. It almost gets Gordie and Vern crushed 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!: When the train whistle sounds, the boys have a minor one. When they see it coming barreling towards Gordie and Vern, they have a much bigger one, complete with "TRAAAAAIN!"
    • Earlier, Gordie and Chris have one when the .45 goes off.
    Gordie: Is it loaded?
    Chris: Hell no! What do you think I am?
    Gordie and Chris: JESUS!
    • The swamp scene. One word: "LEECHES!"
  • Parental Favoritism: Gordie's parents visibly favored Denny over Gordie, to the point of barely acknowledging Gordie's existence at all.
  • Parental Incest: Never actually happens, but invoked by Chris as an insult. See Your Mom below.
  • Parental Issues:
    • Teddy and Chris have violently abusive parents. The former has a mentally ill father (likely due to undiagnosed PTSD as a WWII vet) 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 over his now-deceased older brother.
    • 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.
  • Practically Different Generations: Gordie and his late older brother Denny are separated by a ten-year age gap. Their relationship is portrayed realistically in the book (the age gap renders Denny "just a guy"), but in the movie Denny is painted as having been an exemplary older brother (see Big Brother Mentor above). Gordie's parents (noted in the narrative as old enough to be his grandparents) have ignored him since Denny's death (and the book shows they barely cared about him before, either).
  • 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. Wil Wheaton has said in interviews that he will never live it down.
    Gordie: "Suck my fat one, you cheap dime-store hood!"
    • Also see Your Mom below.
    • Gordie again, sick of his parents focusing so singularly on talking to his older brother at dinner that they seem fundamentally unable to hear his voice, once requested that they "pass the goddam spuds", just to see what would happen. His mother responds by addressing his brother again.
  • Racing the Train: The boys race a train on foot, thanks to Vern being so slow to cross the tracks at first.
  • 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. In the movie, it even requires them to dive out of the way at the last possible second to avoid it.
    • Ray Brower, whose body the kids are travelling to find, was killed by a train as well.
  • Relative Ridicule: Teddy shrugs off every insult Milo Pressman throws at him personally, but becomes enraged when Pressman refers to his abusive, Shell-Shocked Veteran father as a looney.
  • Riddle for the Ages: In-universe in the novella; When they find Ray Browers' body, Gordie remembers the kid had gone blueberry picking, and notices there's no pail or bucket nearby. Even as an adult the thought troubles him, and he wonders in the narration what could have happened to it.
  • Road Trip Plot: While none of the four boys are even old enough to drive, the whole movie is centered around their on-foot journey outside of Castle Rock to find a dead body.
  • R-Rated Opening: The film opens with the Writer sitting in his parked vehicle beside a road (while his son and a friend ride their bikes together) and brooding over a newspaper story he's just read, about the fatal stabbing of an attorney named Christopher Chambers.
  • 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."
    • The overweight protagonist of Gordie's Story Within a Story is called by the demeaning nickname "Lard-Ass" by the teachers as well as by his classmates.
  • 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.
    • The conversation around the campfire counts as this as well, and is described in the narration as the kind of thing boys talk about before they start noticing girls.
      Gordie: All right, Mickey's a mouse. Donald's a duck. Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?
      Teddy: Goofy's a dog. He's definitely a dog.
      Chris: He can't be a dog. He drives a car and wears a hat.

      Gordie: Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep... wagon training.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man:
    • Quiet bookworm Gordie (sensitive) and Troubled, but Cute tough guy Chris (manly). As the story progresses, though, this dynamic is blended a bit (especially in the movie), where Gordie can be tough (facing down Ace with the gun) and Chris can be sensitive (opening up to Gordie about his feelings of rejection by the town).
    • Vern is a shy, naive Lovable Coward (sensitive), Teddy is a brash Fearless Fool who wants to join the Army (manly).
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy's father didn't quite entirely come back from WWII.
  • Shout-Out: To horror film The Invisible Man, which Gordy feels like with his parents.
  • Slumber Party Ploy: The boys claim they're camping in the field behind Vern's house but they're actually going into the woods to look at the body of a missing kid.
  • 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. Gordie also mentions as he finishes his narration that he feels sick and is going to go get himself checked — the way he says it implies it's probably something fatal, as well.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Teddy and Vern. Teddy always picks on Vern, who occasionally snaps and fights back, but in the group the two are best friends much as Gordie and Chris are.
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • 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?note 
  • Your Mom: 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.
    • 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.
  • 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."