The 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause is a part of my journey to watching 100 best films of 100 years: from 1920 to 2020. Starred by James Dean (as Jim), Corey Allen (as Buzz), Sal Mineo (as Plato), and Natalie Wood (as Judy Rebel Without a Cause is bout middle-class juvenile delinquents from dysfunctional families who are trying to carve out their identities in an uncertain world. Directed by Nicholas Ra, the film featured Los Angeles’s Griffith Observatory.
Rebel Without a Cause : Background
Hover, before and after Rebel Without a Cause, Griffith Observatory appeared in nearly 30 films and many TV shows. “The Griffith Observatory was the third planetarium built in the United States during an era when American cities were clamouring for such buildings, which were viewed as the epitome of civic virtue, the purpose of which was to serve as museums, theatres and educational facilities in an effort to inculcate higher values”, writes Merrill Schleier in her The Griffith Observatory in Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955): mystical temple and scientific monument.
The film’s featured lecture ‘the end of the world’ in the planetarium parallels the rebellious teenagers and their chaotic familial relationships. The American drama film was released in 1955 featuring James Dean who died one month before the release. The film shows us the existential loneliness of all humans as the world is getting modernised.
Tokyo Story (1953) talks about the emptiness felt by the elderly generation, M (1931) displays a pathologically disturbed man’s thirst for offending and killing children just because he cannot help it; Joker (2019) shows how society has to recognise the importance of every individual’s existence. Here Rebel Without a Cause (1955) tells us the fatal consequence of being lonely. Moreover, the ‘End of the Earth’ lecture in the Griffith Observatory planetarium talks volumes of the possible cause of planetary destruction: global warming!
End of the Earth lecture:
“For many days before the end of our Earth, people will look into the night sky and notice a star increasingly bright and increasingly near. As this star approaches us, the weather will change. The great polar fields of the north and south will rot and divide. And the seas will turn warmer. The last of us search the heavens and stand amazed. For the stars will still be there moving through their ancient rhythms. The familiar constellations that illuminate our night, will seem as they have always seemed: Eternal, unchanged and little moved by the shortness of time between our planet’s birth and demise.
Orion, the hunter. One of Ptolemy’s constellations, and the most brilliant in the heavens. They’re almost equal in brilliancy. Cancer, the crab, containing a large, loose cluster of stars called Praesepe or the Beehive. The sun can be vertically overhead. Taurus, the bull.
Sagittarius and Aries. While the flash of our beginning has not yet travelled, the light-years into distance has not yet been seen by planets deep within the other galaxies, we will disappear into the blackness of the space from which we came, destroyed as we began, in a burst of gas and fire. The heavens are still and cold once more. In all the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond the Earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone seems himself an episode of little consequence.”
Jim was picked up from the middle of the street by Juvenile Division police for drunkenness. Judi is already being awaited to be interrogated by the police in the station. She ran away from home and was wondering around in the middle of the night of Easter because she thinks her father hates her because she is no longer a child and therefore when she put on a lewd dress and lipstick he rubs off all her lipsticks and called her a dirty tramp and that he was not paying attention to her.
Jim got away from home frustrated because his parent would not let him have any friends. That they are overprotective and do so by moving around all the time. “Just move everything will rise and sunshine’ they say”, says Jim, “that house is a zoo for me”. He does not want to grow up in a circus-like this, where his father is considered a chicken, a henpeck, dominated by his wife, and who lacks manhood.
A teenage boy nick-named Plato, whose father abandoned him and mother is often away from home, was also brought up in there in the police station because he shot a couple of puppies. He did not tell the police why he killed them with the gun that he found in his mother’s drawer. It seemed, though, that he did that out of frustration because his parents were not there for him when it was his birthday.
However, Jim was encouraged and let go by the police because of his parent’s intervention. The next day the on this way to school he suddenly ran over Judy, whom he first saw in the police station. He found out that she is a part of the Dawson High School gang of boys. Nevertheless, he fell for her.
All three, Jim, Judi and Plato, attended the same school: Dawson High School. The school’s Junior and senior planetarium field trip was scheduled to Griffith Observatory. During the lecture ‘The End of the Earth’, in the planetarium, Jim tried to draw attention by making a moo sound. But Plato warned him that it’s hard to make friends with the gang boys, especially Buzz and Judy.
Bothered by his presence and the sound, the gang decided to go against Jim. Each of them waylaid across the hall doors for that matter. While pondering on the possible trouble in a secluded space, Plato told Jim that there is a big deserted mansion on the hill close to the Observatory where they can hide.
They punctured Jim’s car tyre, in the meantime. But still expecting no trouble, he went down to the driveway to change the tyre. In Jim’s passive action they infuriated him by calling him ‘chicken’, which he disdained most.
The ring leader, Buzz invited Jim for a knife-fight, even though Jim did not want to engage himself in such a thing. Consequently, Jim defeated Buzz but left him unharmed. Instead of leaving Jim alone so quickly, Buzz invited him for a chicken race on Millerstown bluff to prove his manhood. They decided to meet at 8.00 o’clock in the evening.
That night Judy asked for a kiss from her father, who objected and said that she is a little too old for that. That’s what he used to do when she was a little girl. He slapped her as she tried to kiss him on the cheek on the dinner table. Humiliated, Judy ran off to Millerstown bluff.
For the sake of honour and to demonstrate his manhood, Jim showed up to the gang on the buff. Buzz and Jim started the race. Bellow the cliff is the sea with the stony wall. The racer is to jump off the car before it plunged into the depth of the sea. Buzz said they will head for the edge, the man who jumps first is a chicken. Jim managed to jump off the car while Buzz plunged into the sea as he could not get out of the car because the strap of his jacket got stuck with the door-latch lever.
Horrified and terrified Jim, Judy and Plato returned home that night. Jim revealed to his parents what he did. He did that because he did not want them to call him a chicken. However, he wanted to report the crime to the police, which his parents severely objected against. He reasoned that he can’t pretend like nothing has happened.
However, Carol, his mother proposed to move away once again. Jim did not want that either. He did not want that because he did not want to take the blame for moving like every time they move. Every time they move it’s either because of him or his neighbour. Jim demanded his father to stand for him against his mother who proposed to move. But he remained silent and unmoved. A scuffle ensued between Jim and his father because of his inability to stand against his mother. Jim ran out of home in the middle of the night. He went to the police station.
But nobody paid attention to what he had to say or was going to say. Everyone seemed busy. Police did not register the case with Jim. He rather went to meet Judy. But the rest of the gang boys, who were arrested and released later, outside the police station realised that Jim is going to reveal their involvement in the accident. They went after him once again.
The gang boys found Plato in front of his residence and they forcefully tied to get information about Jim but was spared as his caregiver intervened in the situation promptly. Hurriedly Plato went inside the house and found a check for his maintenance by his other and a gun under the bed. And busily ran away in a view to warn them.
That night Judy and Jim met secretly outside her house. Jim prosses her to go with him to the place Plato talked about. And Plato also followed them to the deserted mansion. Moreover, the parents of the two and the caregiver of Plato reported their missing to the police station.
Plato, who had been lonely all his life, has placed Jim and Judy on parents’ position there in the mansion. Jim and Judy romantically explored into a different room while Plato fell asleep on the floor after a long happy talk. Judy confessed that she was looking for someone to love her. “All the time I have been looking for someone to love me. Now I love someone”, said Judy. “And it’s so easy. why is it easy now? And I don’t want you to run away from me again!”
The gang boys, who were looking for Jim, have found their way to the mansion by the time. They eventually found Plato. However, he dodged them and ran away into the woods, shooting one of the three boys, while police were warning him to surrender. Instead of surrendering, Plato ran toward the Observatory and broke in.
But while the police have already surrounded the planetarium Jim and Judy too joined John inside the Observatory. Jim was able to convince Plato to hand over the gun to him and promised to give it back after seconds. Even though Jim really returned the gun to him, but bullets were removed. Jim removed the bullet without Plato noticing it.
Jim implored him to come out of the planetarium which he agreed, to be united with him, family. But the moment he saw the gang boys he changed his mind. He demanded that Jim must tell the police to make them go away.
All of sudden, Plato intended to run away from Judy’s clutch with the gun in hand when the police turned on the light which he demanded to keep off. Police did not know that the gun was empty and as a result, one of the policemen shot Plato down on the floor of the planetarium.
Jim and Judy were devastated. A lonely boy who did not have anybody was killed for no crime he committed. Instead of surrendering, Plato rather did not like to be in constant fear and bully from school-gang.
The parents of Jim smiled that Jim is in love and the caregiver lady of Plato bewailed because the boy whom she took care of is no more.
Rebel Without a Cause Quote:
You had a good start and a wrong direction.
Oh, that’s a new disease—Judy’s remark towards Jim when he showed his interest in her.
In all the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond, the Earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone seems himself an episode of little consequence.
It’s just the age when nothing fits.
What can you do when you have to be a man?
You can’t be idealistic all your life. Nobody thanks you for. Except to yourself!
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is not only one of the 100 best films of the 100 years, but it has also been included in the Library of Congress’s National film preservation registry index in 1990 because of its cultural and historical significance.
Rebel Without a Cause, an allegory of growth and the painfulness of growth, transcends its own lurid excesses and now-dated topicality to stand as the kind of big pop myth that defines the Hollywood studio movie at its most potent, as says film critic Jay Carr of The National Society of Film Critics.
The film’s real message is that the instincts of alienated teens are right and that if they are to live lives worth living, they must break away from the adult world trying to steamroll, desensitize, and compromise them and create their own world.
With shallowness in writing in a few places Rebel Without a Cause (1955) certainly a masterpiece in the history of cinema.