November 2, 1955 [Rebel Without a Cause]

In Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean as Jim Stark, the Modern Teenager, early on wishes for “one day when I didn't have to be all confused and I didn't have to feel that I was ashamed of everything.” It is an admission that can be easily shrugged off as American adolescent self-absorption--the result of parental indulgence, material comfort, and too much freedom.

But walking down the street I heard a teenager shriek, “You’re tearing me apart!” doing his James Dean impression, and everyone laughed. Would the kid have been as willing to confess his own confusion and shame? Dean could do it--can do it forever now, free of everything at last: the Brando comparisons, the need to be famous--to be “James Dean”--even the fast cars and Oscars-to-come.

It’s the star-struck who are not free. They will not let him go, will tie themselves to him, strange versions of the Mariner’s albatross, while he sleeps on, that uncertain little smile beneath eyes always almost-flinching and half-squinting, just a kid on the sidewalk, yelling something for the other kids to laugh at, like Plato with an unloaded pistol.


  1. I had preserved in my mind for many many years the memory of an electrifying presence of James Dean in Giant. But rebel without a cause proved a dissappointment and I barely made it across. Perhaps because it was about teenagers.


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