In the category of “I can’t believe I’ve never seen it until now” is Stand by Me, based on the Stephen King novella The Body.
The film is an enjoyable ride, falling into that old cliché of “they don’t make them last they used to”
The audience is given a snapshot of the life of four boys – Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Cory Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) as they set off in search for a dead body.
With its 90 minutes running time, it makes you nostalgic for an age where movies weren’t long and drawn out for the sake of it, focusing on story, rather than special effects and endless sequels.
But this is not a review, I am more interested in discussing the themes of Stand by Me, so accept this opening as an endorsement that Stand by Me is well worth a watch.
Now onto the life lessons, which of course contain SPOILERS…
What does Stand by Me teach you about life?
Your past is not your future…
We learn that Chris has a bad reputation – his family have a criminal background and for his whole life he has been associated as a criminal himself.
Earlier in the film, we see Gordie’s dad mention how Chris stole money from the school, which Gordie questions in a late night chat on its truth.
Chris reveals although he did steal the money, his conscience got the better of him and he returned the money to a teacher, who proceeded to spend the money and let him take the blame anyway, causing him to breakdown in tears.
It’s obvious the negative reinforcement throughout his life makes Chris think he is no good, not believing his potential to be more than his family.
“You’re taking your college-courses and me Teddy and Vern will all be in the shop-courses with all the rest of the retards making ashtrays and birdhouses.”
Gordie challenges this belief and doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be aspiring to do the classes with him.
As the film ends, we learn that Chris went onto college and became a lawyer.
The lesson here isn’t just your past is not your future, but who your family are, does not mean that is you have to be.
By returning the school money you can see the first step in Chris rejecting his families background – just because they are criminals, doesn’t mean he has to be one. It is just unfortunate in this act of honesty, his trust was broken.
Whatever negative background you grow up in does not mean you have an inevitable fate to continue the cycle, be the positive change you want to become.
The journey taken…
The film follows a classic coming of age narrative, of a young protagonist going on a journey, where at the end of the story, they have a breakthrough to face the challenge haunting them.
In Stand by Me, this is represented by Gordie an awkward boy, plagued with demons.
We see him powerless in getting back his baseball cap stolen by fully grown teenager bully Ace, which leaves the audience even more heartbroken for Gordie, due to being gifted to him by his older brother Denny, who recently died in a car accident.
To make his life worse, since Denny’s death, his parents have been rejecting his attention and he lives with survivor’s guilt.
“It should have been me.”
He says to Chris, who reassures Gordie after he starts saying his dad hates him.
As the boys encounter the body they run into Ace and his gang, who tells them to leave as they intend to take credit for finding it.
This doesn’t stop Chris objecting, so Ace responds by drawing a knife, to which Gordie pulls a gun out (stolen by Chris from his drunken dad) and threatens to shoot Ace.
The gang back off, leaving the boys to the spoils, but in true character growth fashion we see Gordie evolve, rather than just being a part of the group, he is more confident, convincing the other three to report it anonymously, a nice touch giving the poor dead boy integrity rather than exploiting his death for personal gain.
Stand by Me shows Gordie on his path to growth – simply put, you need to take the journey for your character to develop.
Friends come and go, but they make you who they are…
An overarching theme of the film is friendship, a brotherhood of boys, bonded by abusive homes, building their own family unit in the process.
The boys push and challenge each other from wading through leech invested waters to crossing a railroad bridge, which they get caught on, with Gordie and Vern narrowly miss being hit by a passing train.
Your friendships of the past impact your soul, leaving an impression on you for life and Stand by Me shares the journey of a group of misfits on a joint quest.
After getting the better of the bullies and doing the right thing, the boys look each other down, going in a separate direction – a cinematic metaphor to represent the end of the friendship, amicably, as they take different paths in life.
Many a viewer is left teary eyed, remembering those good old friendships of the past with people, if you met today, you would hardly have anything in common to talk about.
All that’s left is recognising the important part friendship played on you, good or bad, permanently leaving an impression on your soul, making you the person you are today.
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