THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 47: STAND BY ME

by Laurent Kelly


Stand by me (1986) – Directed by: Rob Reiner   Written by: Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans   Starring: Will Wheaton, River Pheonix, Keither Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell  OSCAR COUNT (0)

They are at the age of twelve placed in between the awkward phase of childhood and adoloscence. The film will show this to be the happiest time of their lives but also provides strong reminders of future conflicts and tensions. As they go on a journey looking for a dead body the mission becomes a metaphor for the end of their tight relationship as a group and also gives each individual a strong lesson in the harsh nature of mortality.

I think there are two key factors that make a film like Stand by Me still feel miles ahead of its imitators. The first is the perfect intertwining of plot and theme. The plot of course is about the four boys excitedly going on the trail of a dead body whilst the film’s theme deals with the transformation from one era to the next. What is really superb is how as the story develops we realise that whilst the boys are sneaking off for an adventure they are also thematically trying to run away from their various problems back at home. Gordy, the film’s protagonist feels both alienated and guilty in the aftermath of his favoured brother’s death, his friend Chris quite rightfully feels victimised because of his low social standing and his family’s reputation, Teddy has a father in the nuthouse and Vern is undoubtedly the most innocent of the four reminding us at all times of how young they all really are.

They shoot the shit, wind up in trouble and are almost run over by a train in their last true quest for freedom. At least for now they are in control of their own destiny and hence seeing the dead body at the end is as much as sad moment for what it is as well as a dour acknowledgement that their freedom will soon come to an end.

At the end of the film the protagonist now older and writing about his experiences (modeled heavily of course on Stephen King) says that he never had any friends again like the ones he had when he was twelve and the film’s second key strength is in the chemistry between the four boys who are utterly convincing in their roles and perfectly capture the awkward blend of old child and young man that is the making of most young teenagers. The banter, confrontations and behaviour of the boys feels refreshingly authentic and non-sentimental and despite their age they handle some of the more hard-hitting passages extremely well. Even with a good script and tight direction so much is dependent on the performances of the four central characters and luckily this film struck gold in casting.

The most telling sequence in Stand by me is a small moment in which Chris and Gordy walk ahead talking seriously about the future whilst a few paces behind Teddy and Vern are in a debate about superheroes. This physical gap is used to show us that the group are disintegrating emotionally with Chris and Gordy coming to terms with their fate whilst the other two friends remain in a fantasy land. When they depart at the end and go their separate ways we understand that this is the end of the road for the gang but at least for the protagonist the warm nature of the memories is destined to always have a place in his heart.

STANDOUT SCENE: The fantastic nostalgia-induced ending:

DID YOU KNOW? Corey Feldman and Rob Reiner auditioned thirty laughs before deciding on the right pitch for Teddy’s unique giggle. This type of outrageous dedication is what helps make the representation of childhood in the film feel so authentic and identifiable.


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