Today’s topic: a troubled generation. Troubled youth has been known for years and years as one of the main subjects of cinema in films like Juno, The Basketball Diaries, Kids, Palo Alto, and even the flashy Bling Ring. However, don’t think that the subject matter of teenagers having to face everyday struggle is one that began to exist in the late 90s and developed only recently. It didn’t. Already in 1955, Hollywood had released one of the most epic dramas that is still recognized as a milestone in cinematic history. Rebel Without a Cause; not only did it introduce the groundbreaking icon – James Dean – it also introduced a new way of looking at the part of society that up until then was ignored by the people and government. The 1940s and 50s were a time of rebuilding the country’s economy, men were coming back from the war and sent out to fight another one in Korea, women were busy taking care of the house while their husbands were on their way to the office. The tension between the US and USSR was heightening by the minute, and nobody had time to look down at the running teenagers. They were free to do whatever they wanted to do. Sometimes this freedom overwhelmed them and in some cases it still does. However, Rebel Without a Cause proved that there had to be a change. Everyone needs attention. Kids too.
James Dean had a certain manner that fitted his, unfortunately, few characters perfectly. He would come onto the screen and let his swagger take over. His laid back voice and the untamed lion inside of him were something out of this world for those times. He was different, and that mattered the most. It was a breath of fresh air for a Hollywood industry that was serving the same dish over and over again. That’s why James Dean is Jim Stark, the protagonist, because Stark is different. He is new in Los Angeles, he moves along with his parents all the time and he’s not a bully. He’s not a yo-yo. He’s a thinker, a true rebel that doesn’t want trouble. Trouble was the only answer teenagers would come up with to solve their problems, and in those times it often resulted in a knife fight, which we witness later on in the movie. A knife fight is personal, it’s a challenge where two boys stay close to each other and watch each other’s steps. It proves who’s stronger, who’s the leader. Stark gets into one of these fights, cornered, unwilling to respond. He doesn’t want to fight back. And that’s when during that scene, on the planetarium, we see the City of Angels in all its majesty thanks to the Cinemascope camera; a beautiful, humongous city that traps the youth’s emotions and passions. The youth is cornered along with Jim.
The boys are inspired by figures like Hitler, MacArthur and Eisenhower. Neo-nazism is becoming more and more popular throughout the sunny streets of LA, creating an environment of insecurity and danger. Insecurity in showing what you really feel deep inside of yourself, insecurity that eats you up and finally, breaks you into pieces. “You are tearing me apart!!!” it’s not only what Jim yells out against his parents but what his whole generation of misunderstood young men and women does too. Every day. School doesn’t teach them life values. School subjects are school subjects. There is no discovery. It’s same old, same old. Alcohol is a discovery, drugs too. The very opening scene is composed of Jim lying on the sidewalk, stone drunk, playing with a toy. Because teenagers are children. Children who want to be men but simply cannot. Something’s pulling them down. Perhaps it’s the need to prove themselves in front of their peers, or the fear of having to face the adult world and the adult life. Birds that can’t fly. Parents that don’t know when to stop and when to act, what to say and what not to say. Of course, it’s a tricky game for both sides, and Rebel Without a Cause explores their relationship. The father who wants his son to carry the family name, behave just like he did when he was his age. The mother, quiet, afraid to speak up, looks at Jim with no hope for a better answer in her eyes. It’s the electrical misunderstanding. There is no connection, no ties. If we think about it, not much has changed. Things may have even gotten worse. We’ve entered the online community, we look for advice on google, we find pleasure in pornography, we have long conversations with people we know nothing about, we watch videos depicting sickening acts of violence and laugh. We do this because we feel abandoned, helpless and forgotten. It’s typical. You’ve all heard this before and you’ll hear about it again.
It’s a world of Jim Starks. It’s a world of Chicken Runs. For those who don’t know, the Chicken Run is a scene in the movie where James Dean’s character duels with a local bully by both driving their cars at full speed toward a cliff. The one who jumps first is a chicken. The challenge ends with a tragedy. A tragedy that speaks for all of us. We all know Chicken Runs. We’ve all done them. We’ve all faced our enemies in schoolyard or in the street. We’ve all looked at them with disgust, deep down gathering all the anger and the pain they’ve been inflicting on us since day one.
Each one of us is part of a troubled generation. No matter what date we were born to. We’re all a disconnected community, and we’re all fighting to re-connect. We sign petitions, we create societies and join festivals and events. We want to be part of something.
Like Jim, we want to walk the streets not drunk, but smiling, carrying the books of the girl we love.