Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
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The Story (continued)

Jim rushes out into the night toward the police headquarters, looking for someone who will talk and listen to him. On the front steps of the police station, he passes by and is noticed by some of Buzz's fellow gang members. He asks the indifferent, pre-occupied desk sergeant for Ray, the juvenile hall police officer that had been sensitive to him when he was first brought in - but Ray is out on call [symbolic of a father who is often unavailable when most needed]. The vengeful gang members assume that Jim is there to squeal to the police about the chickie-run tragedy.

Jim is given a rude brush-off by the policeman on duty. He calls Judy from a pay phone at the station but the call is intercepted by Judy's father. Judy overhears how her father rudely hangs up on him. Jim returns home where he finds Judy waiting for him next to his driveway. Wrapped tightly in a pink coat to keep warm, she greets him affectionately with the name she was taught by Plato:

Judy: Hello, Jamie.
Jim: Jamie? Jamie? Where'd you get that? (He smiles and softly laughs.) Huh?
Judy: How long have you known Plato?
Jim: This morning. (They hear a dedication "from the boys down at Anna's Pizza Paradise" on Jim's car radio from Buzz to Jim. The announcer states: "Jim, this is dedicated to you, from Buzz.") (Judy starts to take a lit cigarette from Jim, but then hesitates - this repeats the same gesture that Buzz made with Jim earlier at cliff's edge.) (Jim turns off the radio, reaching in with his left hand, but in close-up, it's his right hand!)
Judy (warning): They'll be looking for you.
Jim: I didn't chicken. You saw where I jumped. What do I have to do? Kill myself?
Judy: It doesn't matter to them.
Jim: Well, I guess you're still pretty upset, huh?
Judy: I'm just numb.
Jim: You know something? I woke up this morning, you know. And the sun was shining and it was nice and all that type of stuff. And the first thing - I saw you. And, uh, I said, 'Boy, this is gonna be one terrific day, so you better live it up, 'cause tomorrow you'll be nothin'.' See? And I almost was.

Judy apologizes for her earlier behavior that morning and the way she bowed to peer pressure:

I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I treated you mean today. You shouldn't believe what I say when I'm with the rest of the kids. Nobody, nobody acts sincere.

And then, under a moonlit sky, he kisses her for the first time, sweetly on the side of her forehead.

Judy: Why did you do that?
Jim: I felt like it.
Judy: Your lips are soft.

They begin to fall in love. Not wishing to return to the "zoos" that are their homes, they decide to spend the night in a new home - in the "old deserted mansion" near the planetarium that Plato often visits. He assures her: "You can trust me, Judy."

Meanwhile, Buzz's gang attacks Plato to discover Jim's whereabouts, wishing to silence him and take revenge on Buzz's death. They seize him as he returns home and find Jim's home location in Plato's address book. [There are only boys names listed in Plato's address book.] After the attack, Plato - in his upstairs bedroom - opens an envelope from his father that contains a check for almost $700, bluntly designated by a typewritten memo to be "FOR SUPPORT OF SON." Feeling totally deserted and unloved because his parents have replaced love with child-support cash and a maid, Plato runs from his home - armed with his father's gun (hidden under a pillow) for protection, telling his maid: "I have to warn him."

Buzz's gang confronts Jim's timid father at his home, nailing and hanging a live chicken upside down at the front door. The gang members are not able to learn where Jim is. Plato, knowing Buzz's friends are plotting against Jim, has an idea that they have gone to the mansion and rushes there to join them at the hide-away.

Each of the adolescents have had a troubling falling-out with parents, and have been left adrift to work out their common problems. And each set of parents notify the police of the three missing teenagers. Soon, the trio will be joined together, all having left home following arguments and misunderstandings.

At the deserted estate, Jim and Judy engage in make-believe games that playfully assume adult roles, imagining themselves as rich newlyweds looking to rent or buy the home. Plato assumes the part of a real estate agent leading them through the run-down Gothic property with a lighted candelabra:

Plato: Well, what do you think of my castle?
Jim and Judy: Wow, Shoo, Gee, Wow.
Jim: Well, now, there, then, uh, I think we'll take it for the summer.
Plato: Right this way.
Jim (to Judy): Oh, uh, uh. Would you like to rent it, or are you more in the mood to buy, dear?
Judy: You decide, darling.
Jim: Oh yes, yes. (Both with affected accents.)
Judy: Remember our budget.
Plato: Oh, don't give it a thought. It's, uh, only three million dollars a month.
Jim: What?
Judy: Oh, we can manage that. I'll scrimp and I'll save and I'll work my fingers to the bone.
Jim: You see, we're newlyweds.
Judy. Yes. Oh there's just one thing. What about...
Plato (finishing her sentence): ...children? Right this way.
Judy: Yes.
Plato: See, we really don't encourage them. They're so noisy and troublesome, don't you agree?

Mimicking their parents' feelings about children, Judy thinks children are annoying when they cry. Jim responds with a solution to crying children, with a Mr. Magoo-like voice: "Eh, drown 'em like puppies, eh." Plato leads them to the empty swimming pool where they climb down into the "sunken nursery" - according to Jim.

Plato: This is a wonderful arrangement. They can carry on and you'll never even notice.
Jim: Oh, a sunken nursery.
Plato: In fact, if you lock them in, you'll never have to see them again. Much less talk to them.
Judy: Talk to them. Heavens!
Jim: Nobody talks to children.
Judy: No, they just tell them.

After playing around for a while and having fun, their happiest time together in the film, the trio settle down. Plato remembers how he often came to the deserted house, but never had fun before when alone:

Oh, I came here a lot of times before, but I never had fun...'cause I was alone.

Like a surrogate family, Jim lies with his head in Judy's lap, with Plato, the 'child' at their feet. Plato shares how he really has no mom and dad and has often run away from a troubled home. Jim catches Plato telling a concocted lie that his father is dead:

Plato: I used to lie in my crib at night and I'd listen to them fight.
Jim: Can you remember back that far? I can't remember what happened yesterday. (He laughs) I can't. How do you do it?
Plato: Oh, I had to go to a head-shrinker. Boy, he made me remember.
Jim: Did he?
Plato: Then my mother said it cost too much so she went to Hawaii instead.
Jim: Well, what's your problem?
Plato: Oh, I don't know. But-but I'm happy now, here. Oh, I wish we could stay here.
Judy: Plato, where's your father now?
Plato: Oh, he's dead. He was a hero in the China Sea.
Jim: (chuckling) You told me he was a big wheel in New York.
Plato: I did?

According to Plato, whether he's literally dead or alive makes little difference: "Aw, what's the difference. He might as well be dead anyway." Judy rubs Plato's head, comforting him: "It's all right." And she hums a lullaby to him, lulling him to sleep. Disenchanted with their own families and removed from the real world, the three teenagers act the part of their own warm, peaceful, idealized family. Plato views Jim and Judy as his chosen, substitute parents to replace his uncaring home situation - and he idolizes Jim in particular.

The young, Romeo and Juliet couple wish to explore the mansion further to discover the number of rooms: "Wanna explore?" Before they leave Plato, they put a coat over him, as if putting him to bed. They notice Plato's red and blue mismatched socks and laugh: "Must have been a nervous day..." But instead of judging or mocking Plato, they identify with his confusion. Jim asks Judy: "I've done that, though. Haven't you?" They lead their way carrying candles into the dark recesses of the house.

Settling down in another part of the mansion, Judy opens her heart to Jim, in a very intimate sequence, confessing her reasons for falling in love with him. To her, Jim is a man who is very different from her irresponsible and unloving father. She transfers her love for her father to a new heroic man and ideal partner - Jim. He has the traits of a man who is brave and strong (and won't run away or abandon her), caring, responsible, gentle and sweet with peaceful instincts:

Judy: Is this what it's like to love somebody?
Jim: I don't know.
Judy: What kind of a person do you think a girl wants?
Jim: A man.
Judy: Yes. But a man who can be gentle and sweet...
Jim: Yeah...
Judy: you are...and someone who doesn't run away when you want them. Like being Plato's friend when nobody else liked him. That's being strong.
Jim: Oh, wow...We're not gonna be lonely anymore. Ever, ever. Not you or me.
Judy (nuzzling closer): I love somebody. All the time I've been, I've been looking for someone to love me. And now I love somebody. And it's so easy. Why is it easy now?
Jim: I don't know. It is for me too.
Judy: I love you, Jim. I really mean it.
Jim: Well, I'm glad. (Their lips draw together as they seal their love with a passionate kiss.)

Her affirming and approving love validates Jim's gentle, non-aggressive masculinity, and he no longer feels compelled to rebel with violence. In him, she finds someone who will never abandon her physically or emotionally.

Buzz's gang members break into the mansion, find Plato alone, wake him up, and terrorize him. Startled, Plato flees and is chased through the dark and gloomy mansion. Feeling deserted and betrayed by his 'parents' Jim and Judy, Plato goes crazy [just as Jim felt betrayed by his father] - but he also feels compelled to defend his surrogate family. He manages to shoot and wound one of his pursuers - on the staircase! Jim hears the shots and attempts to stop Plato and protectively wrestles Plato down to subdue him. Plato mistakens Jim for someone else and shoots at him, and then voices his objection to being left alone:

Why did you run out on me? Why did you leave me alone?...Let go! You're not my father...

Police have been alerted by the gunshots, and they approach the scene. Plato flees from everyone through the underbrush surrounding the home. Judy catches up to Jim, who is bravely attempting to get to the crazed and armed Plato before the police. During their search, Jim and Judy recount how Plato had Jim in his thinking when he was referring to his father:

Judy: Did he hit you?
Jim: No, I'm all right.
Judy: We have to go back.
Jim: Go back? I'm stayin'.
Judy: After he tried to shoot you, Jim!
Jim: ...He didn't mean it. We shouldn't have left him in the first place. He needs us.
Judy: He needed you maybe, but so do I, Jim.
Jim: He needs you, too. (Jim kisses her to reassure her.) You okay?
Judy: (She nods affirmatively) Yes. You should have heard him earlier tonight. He was talking about you. Like - like you were the hero in the China Sea.
Jim: Yeah, you know what he wanted?
Judy: What?
Jim: He tried to make us his family. I guess he just wanted us to be like his ---

Fleeing from gang members and the police, Plato reaches the dark, womb-like protection of the nearby planetarium, breaks in, and threatens the police from inside with his gun. With sirens blaring, police cars surround the building and attempt to get Plato to surrender. Jim and Judy rush inside the planetarium to persuade and convince him to come out. Once Jim has found that Plato is hiding inside the darkened observatory, Jim turns on the lights, sets the planetarium show going (the show about the inconsequential value of humanity), and supportively talks to Plato while he hides. Their conversation is a symbolic omen of Plato's senseless "end" and life of suffering, endured in an immense, uncaring, black world reminiscent of the earlier planetarium show:

Plato: Jim, do you think the end of the world will come at nighttime?
Jim: Mm, mm [meaning no]. At dawn.

Jim's answer foreshadows the tragic events soon to follow in the darkness of early dawn. Eventually Jim coaxes Plato to come out of hiding. But Plato wants an explanation for their desertion and abandonment (a recurring nightmare from his early childhood in a crib): "Why did you run out on me?" Jim assures Plato that they didn't run out on him at the mansion - they were planning to come right back.

Because it is cold, Jim gives Plato his warm red windbreaker jacket - a final gesture of paternal friendship. This time, Plato accepts, but is unsure whether he will be permitted to keep the jacket. To reassure him and to create an opportunity to remove the deadly bullets from the gun's chamber, Jim easily assents: "Well, what do you think?" Finally trusting Jim, Plato reluctantly hands his gun over. As Plato puts on the red jacket, Jim quickly disarms the gun and then as promised, hands the weapon back to keep Plato's respect: "Friends always keep their promises." Jim fixes it so that the police back off and turn out their lights, allowing Plato to surrender peacefully. A panicky Plato is fearful of the bright searchlights and police cars outside: "Those are not my friends. Make them go away."

A nervous and frightened Plato emerges and the police see the gun in his hand. The boy turns skittish when the police searchlights are redirected on him. With the empty gun in his hand, he attempts to flee, but is shot down by gunfire from the police cordon. Jim angrily cries out to the police to extinguish the lights, but to no avail: "No, don't turn on the lights. Don't. It's too bright. Plato doesn't...Turn out the lights! (Plato is shot dead. The camera tilts sharply.) I've got the bullets! Look!" Jim's father initially believes that the red-jacketed victim is his son - both father and son have been forced to re-examine their own failed roles.

Anguished by the senseless killing and his failure to avert violence with his utmost effort, Jim kneels and crawls next to his friend's body, mourning over the death of his surrogate 'son' who was unable to reach the adult world. He asks Plato: "Hey jerk-pot. What did ya do that for?" His mis-guided, yet well-meaning struggle to care for Plato has ended in disaster - a mini-lesson on the tremendous responsibilities and problems inherent in parents raising another human being.

By peacefully attempting to avoid confrontation and coming to an identification with his father, Jim finally becomes more adult-like and accepting of both himself and his parents. For the first time, Jim's father assumes responsibility - he assures his son that they will face things together and he will stand by him - and most importantly that "he did everything a man could":

Jim's father: You can't help it, son. You did everything a man could...(Jim laughs at the sight of Plato's mismatched socks and then breaks down into hysterical weeping. He grabs onto his father's legs.)
Jim: Help me.
Jim's father: Look Jim. You can depend on me. Trust me. Whatever comes, we'll, we'll fix it together. I swear it. Now Jim, stand up. I'll stand up with you. I'll try and be as strong as you want me to be. Come on.

Plato's death leads to both Jim's reconciliation (with his father) and an unchallenged heterosexual relationship (with Judy), signified by an exchange of jackets (his old red jacket is traded away for Mr. Stark's sports-coat/jacket). Standing up together, Jim and his empowered father embrace. Plato dies wearing Jim's red jacket. Plato's distraught housekeeper provides his epitaph: "This poor baby got nobody. Just nobody." As Jim zips up the red jacket on his friend's corpse [symbolic of his old life of rebellion and teenage psychosexual confusion], he tells ambulance workers: "He was always cold." Jim and Judy also embrace and then Jim's father covers his son's shoulders in his 'adult' sportscoat - signifying that he has already become an adult man. Assertively - as a strong male figure, Jim introduces Judy to his parents: "This is Judy. She's my friend." Both are now accepted as newly-initiated adults. Jim's parents smile and take them away from the tragic scene in their car.

The film is marked in the ending shot with the darkness of pre-dawn hours and the sound of a police siren, symmetrically uniting it closely with the film's opening shot. As cars pull away, an enigmatic, mute figure with a briefcase [unidentified, but actually director Nicholas Ray in a Hitchcock-like cameo] walks toward the front steps of the planetarium, appearing beneath the end title.

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