Contemplate this: a source material written by a beloved prolific novelist; a prodigy director at the peak of his creativity; four casts of a very talented young boys, whose personality matched their characters perfectly they practically played themselves; and a script so well written it was almost beat the source material itself. Well, it turns out the combination of those quality will result in a “one of the kind” movie, evidenced here by Rob Reiner’s “Stand by Me”.
Stand by Me (SbM) was an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella “The Body”, and as King’s fans would have already know, it’s not a horror story at all, it’s a coming of age story which—just like many teen stories in general—deals with the quirks of growing up. But SbM stands out because it has a certain darkness to it, well as you might expect of King’s work. I myself haven’t read the novella, so I don’t know how far the adaptation differ from the source material, but from what I gathered, the script was so brilliant, that King himself has mentioned that of many of his works’ adapted movies, SbM is the best he has yet to enjoyed—it’s interesting to note that he really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s “the Shining”, and prefer this family drama over the critically acclaimed film (hmmm…).
I already fallen in love with Rob Reiner’s later work “the Princess Bride”, so I knew what kind of quality I’ll find in SbM before I got the chance to watched it. But apart from Reiner’s brilliant directing, I find that the story itself served as the main ingredients to the movie’s appeal. SbM main premise is the story of a two days adventure, ventured by four friends in their early teens on finding a dead body. Yes a-dead-body, just as expected from Stephen King, this story deals with dark themes. But even if death might be a constant motif of the movie, but I’d rather highlights it on it’s realistic depiction of life itself. So, yes, the movie’s motif in my perspective is about life, with its gritty and harsh reality.
The ragtag team of the main characters consist of: Gordie Lachance, the smart-quiet-awkward one, who serves as the movie narrator; Chris Chamber, the mature and the peace maker of the group and Gordie’s best friend; Teddy Duchamp, the wild card and the most problematic kid in the group; and Vern Tessio, the chubby and slow yet lovable one, who served as a comic-relief in the story.
Narrated by the adult Gordie, the story begin with a tragic news of Chris’s death years after the main story occurred. Gordie, upon reading the news, then commemorate the fateful two days of his teen-hood, where a missing boy has been a headline in their small town newspaper for days. Vern who accidently listened to his delinquent brother chatting up his friend about the possible location of the missing boy’s dead body, decided to tell his friends about it. Excited of the possibility of being a local heroes, the four friends decided to embark on the journey to find the dead body.
The journey reveals that each boy bear their own personal demons but each has their own way to deal with it, and this is where we find the jewel of the story. Teddy revealed to be an abused child whose father, who was a survivor of the WW2, burnt his child’s ear as a result for his unstable mentality. But on top of it all, Teddy still adore his lunatic father to the point of going berserk when one of the townsfolk mocked his father. Chris who came from a family packed with criminals, suffered from the townsfolk’s typecasting who labeled him as a delinquent. But apart from his family background Chris is shown to be a wise child, mature beyond his age; he often served as the peacemaker of the group and always looking out for his friend’s well-being, especially Gordie. Chubby and joyful Vern, who always targeted to be bullied by his own friends is shown to be an easygoing and fun-loving child, always forgiving to whatever his friends antics. And then Gordie, whose at the time of the story just came out of a grieving period after his older brother’s death, was despairing because his parents—grief-stricken by their son’s loss—abandoned Gordie for the memory of the more favorable son. Yet Gordie enjoyed their traveling, acted as the rational one, always ready for practical solutions at hand.
As I mentioned before, death is the motif of the movie, as proven by how many time it served as a plot-device to run the narration. First it was served as Gordie’s plot, for as the story goes, viewers learns that Gordie was haunted by the memory of his older brother’s death; Second it was the main plot for the story, for the main mission of the casts is to find a dead body in order to be heroes at their hometown. And the last one, is Chris’s death which triggered Gordie as the narrator, to tell us (the viewers) about his and friend’s story on that fateful days.
But even we find deaths all over the story, we also learned that life is the essence of the story too; and that goodness and kindness is the main engine of life itself. It’s what breaths out interesting tales in the world. At the climax when Gordie broke down at the sight of the dead body, he mourned the folly of the world: how death can win over life, and how the memory of a death sibling can win over his need for his parent’s affection. Chris’s insistence that Gordie deserved a brighter future (even deserved it more than his favorable deceased brother) became a touch of kindness, the assurance that the insecure Gordie needs. Even as the epilogue rolls out and reveals a realistic ending (Chris’s death, Teddy’s bleak adult life; and Vern’s average-mediocre life) we can gathered that in that fateful two days of their teen-hood, the friends will always remember and cherish the kindness and goodness they’ve shared, no matter what place they ended up later on their life. Just like the last sentence the adult Gordie wrote in his computer: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”