“I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.”
I can’t remember what age I was the first time I saw Stand By Me, but what I do remember distinctly is the powerful effect it had on me. Based on the short story The Body (found in the Different Seasons collection) written by legendary author Stephen King, Stand By Me follows four close friends, all near to or in their early teens, on their pursuit to locate the dead body of a local missing kid rumoured to have been sighted by one of their older brothers and his gang. Seeing this as a chance for an adventure and even a rare spot at fame with the possibility of reaping a reward, the foursome head off early one morning into the woods not sure of what they may find. What they discover is something somewhat unnatural to young boys of their age; undeniable friendship, concealed hardships and a remarkable inner strength.
The movie starts off with one of the most quotable and memorable lines of narration you’re ever likely to hear (see above quotation) The narrator (Richard Dreyfuss) has grown up to be a writer of some acclaim and is dwelling on a memory from his childhood. A memory of four friends who decide that seeing a dead body of a kid they know is an excuse to pack their sleeping bags and march off into the unknown. The friends in question are Gordie Lachance (Will Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell). What makes this foursome an instant hit is their dynamic difference in personalities and of course the young actors ability to bring some truth and resonance to their required roles.
Gordie is the narrator, the straight kid, the normal one of the bunch who just happens to be invisible to his parents since the death of his more prestigious older brother Denny (played by John Cusack). Gordie is the conscience of the gang, who sees reason in everything that they do. Chris Chambers is the leader of the gang (at least on the outside). The tough guy who doesn’t hide behind the bruises and broken bones that his alcoholic father dishes out to him on a regular basis. He’s the one who carries the cigarettes and who manages to deal out much needed advice when times get difficult. Courageous and loyal, Chris Chambers is the kid who had boundless potential but was always held back by his fathers name. Teddy is the slightly crazy one. The eccentric who always goes that little bit too far to get his kicks. He’s another one who unfortunately has to live with his father’s reputation of being a “looney”. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box but don’t cross him. And last but not least is Vern. He’s the chubby, loveable, chirpy wimp of the bunch who doesn’t want to do anything wrong incase he gets it trouble. Dumb and gullible, Vern will believe every story he’s told like its fact and he’s probably the most immature of the bunch.
Throughout the groups many troublesome incidents that occur during their adventure, the story is thoroughly pulled along at a perfect pace by the extremely honest connection between Gordie and Chris. A bond that is crucial to both boys in keeping them and the rest of the group’s feet firmly on the ground. While Teddy and Vern are vital in conveying certain important aspects of the storytelling, the real heart of the movie belongs to Gordie and Chris, who actually share leadership of the group. Whether it’s being chased by a large dog, running for their lives from an oncoming steam train, getting lathered by blood sucking leeches or being attacked by a gang of ‘cheap dime store hoods’, the boys stick together through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean there isn’t arguments and falling outs. True friendship can only survive if it’s tested, but thankfully their camaraderie prevails. Plenty of their misgivings provide humorous moments, some leave a sombre taste in the mouth. The four boys end up coming back young men, having discovered there is more important things in life than getting interviewed on the radio or having your picture taken for the local newspaper. Life is about living and their “prize” had that stolen from him.
This movie could easily have been brushed under the carpet (like so many other Stephen King adaptations) with a less than capable director and writing team. Rob Reiner is able to produce something, almost unimaginably real and poignant and delivers one of the finest movies of its generation. The four leads give performances that probably to this day still remain some of their best. The sheer emotion that each actor is able to bring forth through the compelling script is breathtaking. They manage to perfectly capture what childhood used to be like. There are many ‘lump in the throat’ moments that just wouldn’t have been achieved had it not been for the stellar delivery from the cast. The ending, which sees the gang deciding to leave the dead kid rather than reap a reward helps us to reconcile the fact they are just kids themselves, albeit now having lost some of their innocence.
Stand By Me remains one of my all time favourite movies and every time I watch it my mind stirs up memories of a much simpler, more enjoyable time and I can’t stop smiling. Sincerely.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter