Film name: Stand By Me
Release date: 1986
Genre: Coming of Age
Starring: River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
Director: Rob Reiner
Script: Raynold Gideon, Bruce A Evans
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 89 minutes
Stand by Me was based on the novella ‘The Body’. Every author gives of themselves in their writing, and this is never truer than of Stephen King. However, ‘The Body’ was drawn directly from real life.
It’s Labour Day weekend 1959, and four twelve-year-old lads set off to find the body of a missing boy.
The boy has been missing for some time, but Vern has overheard a conversation between members of a local gang (led by Kiefer Sutherland) talking about having seen the body by some railway tracks.
The lads are also full of sombre reflection about the impermanence of life because Gordie’s elder brother has recently been killed in a road accident.
Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) spin the usual lie to their parents about how each of them is staying at another’s house overnight.
The lie about where they’ll spend the night gives the lads two days to find the body, since they set off early and plan to be back late the next day.
They each pack a sleeping bag and a pocketful of change, but naturally forget to think about food. Chris, however, has thought to bring along a gun.
The two-day hike to search for the body is filled with exactly the sort of adventures that make being twelve years old in summertime a joy. There is much pleasure in their journey, notwithstanding their gruesome reason for making it.
The boys get chased by the owner of a scrapyard and his dog. They have to pool their change to buy food. They scare each other witless with campfire stories, mostly told by Gordie who everyone says is going to be a writer. They smoke cigarettes that Chris has stolen from his dad.
Next morning, the trek continues and a short-cut leads them to a swamp where they end up covered in leaches.
Despite the awful reason for making the journey, and genuine terror when covered with leaches, the boys are upbeat and full of the joys of being twelve and on holiday from school for a few days before summer ends.
All of them are brave and resilient when the gang turns up, also searching for the boy’s body and intending to take credit for finding it.
I enjoyed every moment of Stand by Me, which managed to be utterly feel-good despite the sadness of the boy’s death and Gordie’s grief over his brother’s loss.
The flash forward is ably delivered by Richard Dreyfuss as the grown-up Gordie. He has indeed gone to college and become a writer. He has drifted away from the other three, but is able to produce a brief indication of where their lives have gone.
The sadness of Stand by Me came not just from the double instances of death when someone is still young, but also from the great truth of childhood: that adulthood will never measure up in quite the same way.
There is a particular pleasure in seeing young ensemble casts in films from decades ago, when they were each emerging as stars. In the case of Stand by Me, the tragic early death of River Phoenix tempers that enjoyment. His was a marvellous performance, in some ways more vivid than Gordie, who was ostensibly the point-of-view character.
Watching Stand by Me after recently devouring the latest season of Stranger Things I couldn’t help but see similarities between the four lads searching for a boy’s body and their counterparts in Hawkins during the Eighties looking for Will Byers.
The nature of the evil they confront was very different, but I was reminded of Stranger Things at almost every turn. This simply added to how much there was to appreciate in Stand by Me.
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