I originally watched this film before I started doing reviews, but as I watched and reviewed three Hollywood Classics, I figured it would make sense to review and watch this one too.
James Dean plays the eponymous revel without a cause ‘Jim Stark.’ Jim Stark comes from a dysfunctional family and when they move to a new neighbourhood, he is very much an outsider. He soon gets into trouble with the neighbourhood bully Buzz Gunderson and his gang, as well as falling for Buzz’s girl Judith and befriending fellow outsider John “Plato” Crawford.
After the film’ release, James Dean and the film itself became symbols of teen disillusionment and isolation across America and the film’s engagement with this theme is one of the best things about it. Of course, I’m not expert, but I’m sure that not only in the 50’s, but throughout history and up until the present day, young people would have felt ostracised and alienated from the society that they were part of. The main characters all come from dysfunctional families with Jim Stark’s father being constantly emasculated by his wife, Judith having a controlling father and Plato being raised by a nanny, as his parents are never home.
These family dynamics and their consequences are present in the modern day and throughout history, therefore making the conflicts that the characters suffer under all the more believable and relatable. I also really liked the narrative too. There wasn’t any time travel or confusing plot twists or unnecessary explosions, but rather a subtle yet powerful portrayal, of a young person finding purpose and meaning in their life.
One of my favourite scenes of the film is when Jim Stark and Buzz Gunderson embark on a chicken run to prove who is manlier, the two quietly reconcile before the run, yet proceed with it anyway. When Jim asks “why are we doing this,” Buzz answers “you got to do something.” For me this really captured the isolation and loss of identity, these young people were experiencing. They would do any dangerous activity just for the sake of it.
Even though it is understandable concerning their upbringings all of the characters were annoying to some extent. Even though Jim Stark’s temper tantrums are contributable of his mother emasculating his father, they were irritating after a while. Similarly, even though, it is understandable, due to his inattentive parents, Plato’s extreme clinginess was still very annoying. Buzz’s tough guy routine got old after a while and Judith’s flightiness was also very irritating.
Even though the characters did annoy me at times, the strength and the simplicity of the narrative overcame this.