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Literature / Rumble Fish

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The aptly named Motorcycle Boy.

Rusty James: Hey man, I really dig the colors.
Motorcycle Boy: The colors?
Rusty James: The colors are cool.
Motorcycle Boy: Makes me kinda sorry I can't see the colors.
Rusty James: I never thought you were sorry about anything.

Rumble Fish is a 1975 coming of age novel by S.E. Hinton, and the sequel to her first classic, The Outsiders, although the links between the two are slight.

The plot concerns Rusty James, an Emo Teen on the inside, ruthless gangster on the outside, who is constantly trying to live up to the reputation of his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, who has grown bored with life and is, ironically, trying to escape from the reputation he has created. When The Motorcycle Boy comes back to town after several months on the road, Rusty James' world comes crashing down as he comes to terms with the fact that his brother's violent lifestyle is something that he can never have, and that he must rise above the only world he has ever known in order to prove himself the man he's always wanted to be, which means letting go of his brother.

The book was made into a film by Francis Ford Coppola in 1983, taking heavy cues from the French New Wave & German Expressionism and written largely by Hinton herself. Whereas the book came out eight years after The Outsiders, the film adaptation was released just seven months after its predecessor. The film starred Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Spano, Diana Scarwid and Dennis Hopper. Dillon, who plays Rusty James in this film, previously appeared in The Outsiders as Dally.

Has no relation to the 2004 Fighting Game The Rumble Fish.

This film features examples of:

  • Adaptational Nice Guy: In the film, the Motorcycle Boy is more attentive and paternal toward Rusty James than he is in the novel.
  • Adults Are Useless: Rusty's father. He's a failed, almost-perpetually-broke, alcoholic lawyer who's too consumed by his own demons to do any proper parenting. Even when he occasionally gets a good case and makes some money, he just gives some of it straight to Rusty and drinks the rest, and as Rusty notes, times this happens are few and far between.
  • Age Lift: In the novel, Rusty James and the motorcycle boy are three years younger than they are portrayed in the film. In the novel, the Motorcycle Boy is only 17 whereas in the film, he is 21.
  • The Alcoholic: Rusty James' father.
  • Badass Biker: The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty fashions himself after one, but doesn't have a motorcycle.
  • Big Brother Worship: Rusty worships his older brother The Motorcycle Boy to the point of veneration.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In the movie, Rusty James releases the fish and escapes to California. The Motorcycle Boy dies, but with a smile on his face, implying that he has found peace in death.
    • Even the book could be implied to be this, since it's at least implied that reform school fixes Rusty and he fits into peaceful society now.
  • The Brute: Rusty is big, tough, and a talented fighter who aspires to lead a gang. However, he's not very smart and eventually his friend calls him out on it, telling him that he'd be second lieutenant (that is, third in command) because he's not smart enough to be the Big Bad or even The Dragon and that violence is his only strategy.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: It's implied that getting hit in the head with a metal rod by a mugger did permanent damage to Rusty's brain, and that's why he has trouble remembering things.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The Motorcycle Boy gradually becomes one over the course of the movie.
  • Creator Cameo: S.E. Hinton plays a prostitute.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Motorcycle Boy and Rusty James, big time.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: In the film, everything except the rumble fish in the pet store window are in monochrome, giving the film a very gritty, washed-out feel.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The Motorcycle Boy talks with a quiet and restrained high tenor voice.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: You may be surprised that the gangsters don't start singing and dancing in the stylish fighting scene in the underground area.
  • Downer Ending: At least, the book. The Motorcycle Boy finally goes crazy and is killed by the police while vandalizing a pet store to free the animals in it. Rusty is arrested and sent away to reformatory. The only bright spot is that it's implied that reformatory did actually rehabilitate Rusty.
  • Emo Teen: Although the novel itself predates the Emo Music scene by four decades, Rusty has a lot of cultural overlaps with Emo Teens - namely, a very gloomy world view and an outlook inspired by the nihilistic music he listens to.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Motorcycle Boy and, at least at the beginning, Rusty James.
  • Jerkass: Smokey crosses the line into jerkassdom when he manipulates a situation to get Rusty's girlfriend Patty to dump him. Rusty, in the middle of a downwards spiral, only gloomily wishes that he were smart enough to execute plans like that.
  • Leave the Camera Running: subverted, see time-lapse photographies of clouds racing across the sky.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: You know Rusty's in trouble when he describes getting hit by a mugger in the head with a metal bar spoiler as unbearably painful, since he spends most of the novel insisting that painful things including and up to stab wounds don't hurt too much.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The film's soundtrack was done by Stewart Copeland of The Police.
  • Punch a Wall: Rusty punches a police car window out of anger and grief after Motorcycle Boy is shot by the police.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rusty would usually be able to beat Smokey up if Smokey tried to give him one. But after Rusty suffers his severe stab wound, Smokey lays this one on him.
    Smokey: You know, if there were gangs around like in the old days, I'd be running things, not you. You'd be second lieutenant. You might have gotten by for a while on the Motorcycle Boy's rep, but you have to be smart to run things. You ain't got your brother's brains. It's nothing personal, Rusty James, but nobody would follow you into a fight because you'd get people killed — and nobody wants to be killed.
  • The Rival: Rusty James has two.
    • Smokey is a member of Rusty's gang, and as Rusty puts it, there's a "strange tension" between them because they both know Smokey is the second-toughest in the group, and also a lot smarter than Rusty.
    • Rusty's feud with Biff Wilcox starts because Rusty says something about Biff's girlfriend. However, after things spiral out of control during the fight — Biff stabs Rusty and then Motorcycle Boy breaks Biff's wrist - it turns into a much more serious feud between the two.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The titular Rumblefish in the film are the only things in colour.
  • Suicide by Cop: Somewhat. The Motorcycle Boy.
  • The Film of the Book: Not as faithful as the film of The Outsiders, but stunningly adapted nonetheless.