Saturday, 18 March 2017

Stand By Me (1986)

Fig 1 - Stand By Me Poster
Like a lot of the films in the Top 250, Stand By Me has been the subject of countless references within pop culture. So as with my first viewing of The Sixth Sense (1999), I had a niggling feeling that I'd already digested this story unconsciously in some form of parody. Scenes of hiking along the tracks and narrowly avoiding oncoming trains had certainly been registered to me long before now (Netflix's Stranger Things comes to mind), so I was admittedly reluctant going in.

Directed by Rob Reiner and based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Stand By Me opens with a man pulled over to the side of the road, having clearly been affected by the news of a stabbing. From here we are transported back to the childhood of Gordie (Wil Wheaton), the man in question. We see him enter a cozily furnished tree-house, in which his friends Chris (River Phoenix) and Teddy (Corey Feldman) are smoking and playing cards. Soon after, another friend named Vern (Jerry O'Connell) rushes in to inform the group he's discovered the whereabouts of a dead body. They immediately decide they should hike along the railroad tracks and camp out overnight in order to claim credit for the body and so the boys' journey begins.

Fig 2 - Stand By Me - Vern, Chris, Gordie and Teddy
In many ways, it feels like a spiritual predecessor to Superbad (2007). I do think it's a smarter, less 'comedically-inclined' film than Superbad, but what they do have in common is the sense of truth to the characters, to the realistic back-and-forth of the dialogue and the humility they suffer in one another's company. The majority of the four friends have had significant issues with parents in their upbringing, having among other things dealt with neglect, abuse and alcoholism from a young age. As I'm sure is reflected even more-so in the novel, the film absolutely comments on the effect of the parents' actions on the kids. On one hand you've got Gordie, who aspires to be a writer although his father always focused on his brother's football career (who is incidentally played by an impossibly young John Cusack). As a result, Gordie is constantly unsure of himself and requires the motivation of his friends to stick to his dreams. Then there is Chris, who hints at an abusive background and constantly has to stick up for himself around his older brother's gang. He often lets his heated temperament get the better of him and shows great care for his group of friends, taking the lead in most situations and displaying little regard for legal activity.

What's amazing is how all of this character development fits into a solid hour and a half, by the end of which you feel yourself truly understanding them. It all fits so neatly into this rural American 50's setting, with a terrific soundtrack that even frames a lot of the scenes. But even so, and it might be a huge cliche, the story really isn't about the ending, it's about getting there and coming to terms with their individual issues. This all comes to a head when we learn what happened to the boys later in life within the final scenes, which really rounds off the film in a satisfying way. It's got a lot of comradery, a lot of crass jokes and a ultimately a lot of heart. I'll definitely be coming back to this one again.


Fig. 1 Stand By Me Poster (1986) From: Stand By Me - Directed by: Rob Reiner

Fig. 2 Stand By Me Screenshot (1986) From: Stand By Me - Directed by: Rob Reiner


  1. One of my all time favourite films. :) So sad River Phoenix is no longer with us.

    1. It is very tragic! I'd heard of him but not looked into it until now. Probably my favourite performance of the film.

    2. He was the basically the James Dean of the 80's. He had no acting training and was a natural just like his brother Joaquin Pheonix. He was also considered a younger version of Harrison Ford due to his appearance in Indianna Jones and the Last Crusade and Mosquito Coast as young Indy and his son. Its definitely worth checking out his films.

    3. I definitely got the James Dean vibe from my findings. I know that Last Crusade is on the list so I'll be checking that out for sure.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.