When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me, stand by me, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me
Darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me
“Stand by Me” is the story of four young boys, and the journey they take together one summer.
It’s narrated by one of the boys, who’s now grown to be a writer (played by Richard Dreyfuss, who also narrates), as he looks back on the events of his youth.
On a summer day, one of the four overhears some older boys talking about having found a dead body. Another young boy about their age had disappeared recently, and they presume, given the location that the body was found, that the boy was hit and killed by a train. Given the publicity surrounding the boy’s disappearance, the kids figure they’d be hailed as heroes if they recover the body. Plus, of course, there’s a sense of morbid curiosity.
So, after telling their parents they’ll be camping out overnight and going off to the races the following day, they set off on foot on the twenty plus mile journey to the place where the body was discovered.
The four boys come from a wide cross section of family upbringings, but three of the four of them are facing problems at home. Two of the boys, Chris and Terry (played by River Phoenix and Corey Feldman, respectively), come from abusive households. A third, Gordie, our future narrator (played by Wil Wheaton), is feeling neglected at home. His older brother was tragically killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and now his parents are having trouble communicating with him. He had always been the afterthought of the two children, but now with his brother gone, things are proving especially difficult.
Chris smuggles his father’s .45 out of the house, and brings it with them on their trip. In a childish way, the boys are in awe of its power, and yet aren’t as cautious and respectful of it as they need to be. Gordie winds up accidentally shooting a garbage can with it.
Their own inexperience and lack of parental supervision aren’t the only dangers the boys face, however. Before leaving town, they’re accosted by the town bully (Kiefer Sutherland) and one of his friends – who happens to be Chris’ older brother. The brotherly bond does nothing to mitigate the situation, however. “Ace” is forceful, intimidating figure… even to the members of is own gang. Ace’s friends also know where the body is, and their potential interest in it creates tension throughout the film.
The four boys are off to find it, but will Ace and his gang of punk teens go as well?
The boys take their camping rolls and follow the train tracks out of town, heading off on the two day hike to the body’s location.
They have their share of experiences and adventures along the way… they get chased by a junkyard dog, nearly get hit by a train as they cross a trestle, and fall into a pond infested with leeches.
But mainly, it’s the story of boys being boys. They’re a group of twelve year olds, on their own, being themselves. They speak their own language, sing songs, smoke, bust each others balls, try to make sense of the events of their lives, and have important pop culture conversations like, “You think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?” and “Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?”
As they undergo the journey together, the four become even closer friends. Aside from sharing a memorable common experience, the boys stand up for each other in the face of confrontation, they earn respect for each other, and they both confide in each other and comfort each other when sharing their feelings about the circumstances of their lives. They confess their sorrows and struggles relating to the adults in their lives, their teachers, their parents… They bemoan being pidgeon-holed by school and society.
When they finally reach their destination and actually find the dead body of the young Ray Brower, the boys are forced to take a stand for themselves against Ace and his gang of teens. With all they’ve learned about themselves and each other along the way, though, they’re no longer the pushover victims they were prior to leaving town.
This time, they stand their ground.
Of course, the journey that the boys make through the movie is a metaphorical one. It’s not just a trek to find a body, or even a story about a formative point in time for a young writer. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the journey to become men, but it certainly represents the loss of boyhood innocence. The four begin the movie as children, without a doubt. They’ve certainly shared their share of hardships, but they’re still children – and still looking at the world as children. But as they take their trek (not coincidentally to a dead boy) they work out their feelings, they share experiences, they gain confidence. At the end of the film, they see the world through different eyes. They had “only been gone two days but somehow town seemed different, smaller.” The movie that began with the four of them, hanging out inside the treehouse, ends with just two of them, outside the treehouse, parting ways.
The more mature view they return with brings truths and realizations that weren’t apparent to them when they left town. Friends do not stay friends forever. The bonds that seem so strong and permanent when you’re young friends are really not. Although the memories may remain forever, and the feelings between friends never fade, life takes you down different paths, to different places.
It’s also at the end of the film that we learn that Chris, even though he bucked society’s expectations and grew up to become a lawyer, was stabbed while breaking up an altercation and died. It’s his death that moved the grown Gordie to write about the experience. It’s a bittersweet coda that is especially melancholy in a modern viewing… in light of the knowledge that River Phoenix himself died tragically of drug related causes. He never grew to fulfill his promise here as a talented young actor.
As the movie is set in the 1950s, it has a wonderful soundtrack of ’50s music, featuring artists such as Buddy Holly, The Del-Vikings, The Silhouettes, The Chordettes, The Coasters, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Ben E. King. It actually adds to the sweetness and character of the film… the music of a more innocent, bygone era, for a movie about innocence.
It’s hard in some ways to imagine this movie being made today. It’s an R rated movie revolving around pre-teens. It features 12 yr olds smoking, swearing, and playing with guns. But the themes it expresses are timeless. We’re all young once, and we all have close friends.
Perhaps the movie is so great because it’s so close to all of the creators’ hearts. It’s based on a story by Stephen King, who wrote it about his own childhood friends. Director Rob Reiner and actor Richard Dreyfuss were actually childhood friends, and knew each other at about the age of the kids in the movie… they actually had campouts in the woods together similar to the one in the film. Reiner cast the boys in the film based on their actual personalities, so they wouldn’t have to “get in character”. Then he gave them time to bond together as friends prior to the commencement of filming.
“Stand By Me” is a wonderful movie about young friendship and growing up. It can make anyone nostalgic for their youth… no matter when they grew up.
It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.