A View of the Theme of Adulthood in Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray through the Lens of Death of Adulthood in American Culture
A view of Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray through the lens of “Death of Adulthood in American Culture” by AO Scott While the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, directed by Nicholas Ray, seems to be an entertaining and eccentric film about the roles of teenagers who can’t find a place in society, a closer look through the lens of AO Scott’s “Death of Adulthood in American Culture” reveals that the film is about adulthood changing in our country’s culture. Anxiety is a result of the lack of adult role models to whom they can look up. Even more so now, the inner-teenager is seen in an adult who grew older but not up. In Rebel Without a Cause, Jim Stark, a teenager nearing adulthood is, according to his friend Plato, “sincere.” However sincerity doesn’t necessarily fit in with the culture in which he is living. Towards the beginning of the movie, Jim gets in a fight with Buzz in front of his gang and later they decide to settle this in a car chase. The first one to jump out of the car before it went over the cliff would be named the chicken. Jim jumps out first however Buzz ends up dying. Later Jim tells his parents he had to go to the police station to report this and he got into an argument with his mother about whether he should reveal what happened. AO Scott juxtaposes this scene while at the same time showing a death in paternity by having Jim and his mother each take turns staring down at the other and revealing their shadows from the steps on the staircase. At the same time, Jim tries to call on his father to step up and be supportive of him, but instead Mr. Stark sits on a table adjacent to the staircase and watches the argument take place. Afterwards Jim leaves home and goes to the police station only to find that the officer doesn’t care about what Jim has to say, thus revealing a lack of courage in this generation.
In “Death of Adulthood” AO Scott gives his experiences of TV characters being “among the allegorical figures of our age giving individual human shape to our collective anxieties and aspirations,” meaning that TV characters can be a reflection of interests of the author or filmmaker (2). He suggests that “something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade… It is the era not just of mad men, but also of sad men, and above all, bad men,” suggesting that patriarchy is dead (2). Later in his essay, Scott introduces us to journalist and critic Ruth Graham who wrote an essay about adults who have been reading youth fiction novels. She gives examples of how adulthood interests have been dwindling in American culture, from books and movies, such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, while another critic, Leslie Fielder talks about Huck Finn. For example, “Huck’s “Pap” is a thorough travesty of paternal authority, a wretched, mean and dishonest drunk whose death is among the least mourned in literature”(5). This dishonest drunk probably would have taken the same routes that Jim’s parents did when they were convincing him not to go to the police station. Fielder also laments at the fact that we are seeing movies that lack themes of marriage and courtship. Also, Fielder says “that ‘the great works of American fiction are notoriously at home in the children’s section of the library,’ suggesting that adult life has changed as these readers have transitioned from reading mature literature to reading youth literature (4).
How it works
From the other side of the lens, Judy’s father and Huck’s “Pap” both are mean to their children and live their life as if they were nonexistent. These instances show the “travesty of paternal authority” because the teenagers aren’t being supported when they need it most. In Rebel without a Cause, a death of, in AO Scott’s words, “Adulthood in American Culture” is revealed when Jim tries to be responsible by reporting the incident and getting past his mom who seemed reluctant to let him report it. Nicolas Ray portrays this scene to show Jim’s mom as the one in authority, thus showing a weaker paternal figure, with Jim’s dad watching this argument in the background. Similar reactions are also shown between Judy and her father. Judy is going through the difficult times as a teenager when everyone’s hormones are changing and yet her father does not support her. Even though she still acts childish around him sometimes, his response to this is rude and uncalled for as he slaps her in the face. He also doesn’t really seem to even care about Judy either. Originally Jim was talking with his dad before he went to this “chickie run” in which if anything he would be responsible for Buzz’s death. His dad gave a very weak reason on why Jim should not go. Jim’s dad was also dressed rather oddly for his position as head of the household, wearing an apron and trying to get Jim to think about pros and cons of going, while acting extremely tired. If Jim’s father had given him good reasons not to go there, and acted like a mature father, Buzz might never have died. Also toward the end of the movie when Jim, Judy and Plato are living in an isolated mansion, Plato ends up being shot by a cop. Jim brought his friend Plato and a former gang member (Judy) to create kind of their own group, which lead to Plato acting mentally disturbed once more people went into the mansion.
Relating back to the theme of “The Hunger Games,” as mentioned by Graham, the gang is similar in that they are being raised mostly by parents who probably don’t care about their children. This may be why everyone acts savage in this movie, due to this “end of an era.” In Rebel Without a Cause, the teens start killing each other later in this “battleground” with the mansion and the planetarium right across from it, due to enforcement, or lack thereof. While it seems that “Death of Adulthood” is about characters from movies and books, it is really about the influence of how this immature behavior gets into our own “American” culture, which can be symbolized from the movie when Jim gives Plato a red jacket. This reveals that Jim was wearing red, white, and blue. Then once Jim’s father gives him his jacket, he inherits the role of being an adult who didn’t grow up like many of the other adults there and this scene foreshadows Jim acting like his dad in the future. This shows that sincerity “was” a part of American Culture. More often now, American culture is seeming youth reacting to unsupportive, dishonest and mean populists who act like teenagers.