The literal journey of Stand By Me is something that I have never experienced; not once did I ever go on such a similar journey, where my parents are falsely made aware of my actual location for over a couple of hours; the concept of camping is something that I was only forced upon once in my first year of high school, an adventurous experience that was tightly structured by the regime created by my teachers and camp facilitators; the sight of a dead body has not come into my life until I began my career as a Nurse, and even then the experience is far from traumatic.
But it is in the metaphorical road that Rob Reiner intends with the young boys of Stand By Me that I was able to find myself in deep empathy with; the concept of friendship, the sense of alienation — both domestically and academically — the inability to understand the larger pieces of our existence, the grand weight found in the most medial aspects of youth life, the lack of earned funds — reliant on the accumulated and shared funds of your circle of friends to survive the next feed. Memories trigger as the film calmly touches on these topics, filling in the pieces that Reiner clearly left open for the audience to fulfil, a nostalgic quality that is almost unbeaten by any film of its genre, unwilling to depict a youthful tale with condescending and cynical eyes, a man of great maturity transporting himself back to a period of fondness, wonder, and internal struggle that is far from anything one would face later in their lives.
Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) are twelve-year old boys within one of the most important summer of their life, ahead of them is Junior High, but to them what is important is this moment, the presence of a dead body, which could possibly provide them with splendid glory that their hearts clearly pound hard for; their personalities could not be more different from one another’s, but their friendship ties together tightly through their social alienation and complicated domestic lifestyle, an environment that repels them from their own homes and closer as a unit, almost a gang even.
This journey began as something simple, purely superficial, possibly to further enhance their need of escape from the troubling aura that surrounds them in Castle Rock; together, they independently trek along the local train tracks, knowing that far within the line, in the densely covered woods where the train passes, a young boy was struck dead by a train as he was picking blueberries. Fun arouses in their adventure, laughs to be shared, and freedom to be rejoiced, but further down the line, they discover and raise a piece of themselves to the surface for analysis, attempting to dissect and diagnose the tragedies of their pasts and the conditions they currently find themselves within their home town, the future ahead of them is still in the process of formulating, but without such reflection of their own lives, they wouldn’t be able to truly transition to the next phase of their road to adulthood.
Gordie allocates himself as the protagonist of the film through the self-narrating position he finds himself within the story, displaying a memory to his audiences — but in his world, the readers — that unlocks a piece of his life that he has kept tightly buried for years, sparked only by the recent death of his childhood friend, Chris Chambers, exposing the significance of this journey it had on both himself and his friend. This was a peak of Gordie’s struggles in his childhood, his family swallowed deeply by the sudden death of his older brother — the more adored of the two — highlighted further by the lack of appreciation of his father towards him and his talent, along with the heartbroken and neglectful condition of his mother. Chambers, on the other hand, is suffering also from a personal crisis of his own, living in a world that seems vast and endless, knowing that no matter how far he would go, his tarnished name would always follow him, one that would constantly leave him amongst the many in the dirt despite his desire for redemption and success, the prospect of college, he feels, is far within his reach, aching his heart at the very thought of being trapped.
It was in the reflective moments between these two characters that the film reaches a sense of poignancy, that I was unable to hold back some of my tears; to see them in such pain, to endure the harshest thing that this world could ever mark on you — the disappointing perspective of a father, the concept of an unattainable future, the shame that is thrown onto one’s face for reasons that are unjustified, knowing that any effort for redemption would only reverse itself and inflict more onto the initial damage — it is emotions that Reiner hones effectively in a manner that is far from the condescending nature that one would possess from such a film, fearing that its audience may be unable to absorb the material purest intentions. Reiner allows the performances laid upon by its young, but highly talented, cast — particularly Wheaton and Phoenix — to expose such natural and emotional truths, penetrating us much like anything we could ever see from a film of such maturity, but still retaining that sense of youthful adventure and exhilaration that one would come to expect from such a premise.
As the narrative draws itself from the nostalgic memories of its protagonist, Reiner successfully encapsulates his audience in the atmosphere of this man’s youth, comprising and supplementing their journey with timely music of the 1950s, pulsating each supplemented moment with an empathetic sense of nostalgia that triggers our own transportation to our own fond memories. The consistency of the music choices is found in the lightness of their composition, almost fundamental in their pop sensibilities, emphasising the youthful spirit of its lead characters; the choices don’t possess a timeless feel that would culturally resonate in the later depictions of youth, it instead takes on a role as a time capsule for those who have lived such a period, much like our beloved characters.
The literal villain of the films are donned by the rocker inspired young adults that plague its town, their rebellion and anarchy is what resonates from their image, but through the eyes of our protagonist, it is the uniformity, condescending and clique structure that antagonises them. They belong to the adult world that these young boys have yet to understand, constantly highlighting their shortcomings with every chance they get, their actions are much more physical, but no less than the sharp judgemental words that comes out of their parents’ mouths — or in some cases, Castle Rock’s adult residents. These villains, led by the slick-toned Ace Merrill, played by the reliable Kiefer Sutherland, would become an apparatus to these boys’ journey, a traditional villain that would reinforce the metaphorical growth that they have just endured. It is under Reiner’s effective direction and his writers, Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, that such characters never for a moment felt artificial in their existence within the story; they exist because it is natural, and their intersection with the boys are circumstantial; its climactic confrontation, reinforced only by the historical context of their relationship.
Stand By Me is another defining film for its director Rob Reiner, an early streak that was sparked since his cult debut, This is Spinal Tap, finding a comforting groove in the studio system, churning film after film that would become genre staples. Reiner has always adored the eyes of the young, and his subversion of the classic fairy tale, The Princess Bride, and his nostalgic Stand By Me would emphasise such a statement, but it is clear that his latter would become the more beautiful and resonant of the two, striking something far more natural and reflective that would later be re-captured in When Harry Met Sally.