Movies That Everyone Should See: “Stand By Me”

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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

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“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.

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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?

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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?”

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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.

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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.

Apart.

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.

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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”.

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34 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Stand By Me”

    • Thanks rwhyan!

      Yeah, isnt it a funny footnote in King’s career that the best movies based off of his works arent horror movies? LOL. You wouldnt think that that would be the case, but…

  1. This is a great movie and I agree that everyone should see it at some point in their life. It’s fun to see a chubby Jerry O’Connell and I like how you subtly worked in the word trek without making any references to stars or Wil Wheaton specifically.

  2. Nice selection… I’ve seen Stand By me, but it was when I was young — actually, right at the age of the boys, I think — and it, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and That Was Then, This is Now are all kind of blurred together in my memories. So even though I’ve seen all of them (some of them in school, interestingly enough), I’ve got them all on my to-see list so that I can remember them clearly and disambiguate them.

  3. Great film. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it but still lingers in my memories.
    P.S.>Goofy is a dog.

    • But what they are saying is….

      If we proceed with PLUTO being a Dog, how can Goofy ALSO be a Dog, seeing as they’re obviously vastly dissimilar on the evolutionary scale? If Goofy is a Dog and Pluto is a dog, why cant Pluto do the things that Goofy does? Walk, talk, drive, etc?

      I know somewhere its on the record that Goofy is supposed to be a Dog, but one of those two characters needs a new phylum. Just no consistency there whatsoever!

      • One of my favorite funny Disney moments is in Fantasia 2000 when Donald is loading animals onto Noah’s Ark… and finds himself ushering in a non-anthropomorphic duck. His expression is priceless.

    • Real men are never ashamed to say they cry watching this film, but I think -Tank/Fogs correct me if I’m wrong- I think we say “dusty” instead. I dig this pic too Dave. :-)

      • Ha. Well. Yeah we do. “It got a little dusty” is mancode for crying. :) But youre right, thats alright. I’ve fessed up outright a couple of times here this year, too, I believe.

        Though Im in no rush to point out where. LOL!

  4. The Two Kings here are timeless. Stephen “King’s” brilliant coming of age story backed up by marvelous melodies and punctuated by a Ben E. “King” classic really paint a fantastic film. This movie is about the power of friendship and togetherness making individuals stronger as a group than they could ever be alone. I think I read that director Rob Reiner cast the leads (kids) and let them hang out as a gang before filming to solidify their strength as a unit thereby exemplifying one of many major themes, friendship. Excellent MTESS picture. GREAT post.
    “No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid. Just as long as you stand, stand by me.” – Ben E. King, Stand By Me

    • Yeah. I heard on the special features that he cast the four kids then brought them in two weeks early and played drama theatre games with them, but they thought it was all just fun and games. Let them hang together like friends, then when they were ready to roll they were all buddies already.

  5. A great review. You brought back to memory so many feelings I felt watching this adventure for the first time. Full of laughs, but also serious. Full of adventure without, but also self-discovery. Def a movie everyone should see.

  6. Great flick that always reminds me of childhood spent with your friends outdoors. It’s kinda sad these days because kids are always stuck inside playing video games or watching TV and are missing on all these great friendships and adventures we used to have.

    • Totally true. Although staying indoors may be less life threatening in the short term than some of the stuff I used to get into out in the woods LOL.

      But you’re right. This movie totally makes me miss those days… trapsing through the woods with a gang of friends, all busting on each other. Good times, man, good times.

    • Ha! You known the secret origin of the “M” in MTV too, huh?

      Lost to history… LOL.

      I recall when this movie was in heavy rotation, but I must have never burnt myself out on it. It had been awhile since I’d seen it too, but it wound up just as good as I remembered when I checked it out last week!

  7. I’d call this a classic feel good film. Sure it gets pretty dark, but it’s got such a strong message that I dare anyone to not be able to connect with.

    Great write up Dan! Really makes me want to go and watch it again.

    • Yuppppp… thats what I try to do with these. :D

      If it comes up on your TV in the next few days, you will be unable to resist! HA!

      Its is kind of feel good… I think Id call it bittersweet. Always leaves me feeling good, yeah, but a little sad, too.

  8. It’s a very good movie.

    1984 This Is Spinal Tap
    1985 The Sure Thing
    1986 Stand by Me
    1987 The Princess Bride
    1989 When Harry Met Sally…
    1990 Misery
    1992 A Few Good Men

    What a great run of entertaining movies from Reiner.

    • Total agreement. I’ve always thought he was completely underrated as a director. The decade of films you point out is just an incredible run.

      More MTESSes to come from him for certain!

      • Hahaha, trust me I understand! Just have to give this movie as much love as it deserves. Congrats again man, well deserved

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