Top 10 Movies: #4 – Stand By Me

While Stand By Me (1986) is undeniably an excellent film, I’m not sure I can actually justify how high it ranks on my personal Top 10 list (it almost came in at number 3, but I really couldn’t justify putting it above any of the remaining entries).  The fact remains, it’s one of my all-time favorites (thus making Rob Reiner the only director to make the list twice, back-to-back with last week’s Princess Bride).

Based on The Body, a semi-autobiographical 1982 Stephen King novella, Stand By Me is the story of four young friends on the cusp of adolescence, confronting life, death, and the socioeconomic divide over the course of a journey in and out of a rural 1950’s town.  Wil Wheaton, in arguably his best role, is Gordie Lachance, a boy struggling with the death of his beloved older brother, and his parents’ subsequent neglect.  The transcendent River Phoenix, in his original breakout role, is Chris Chambers, Gordie’s best friend, from an impoverished family with a bad reputation.  Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell round out the cast as loose cannon Teddy Duchamp and comic relief Vern Tessio, respectively.

Fleeing from dysfunctional home lives, the four twelve-year-olds embark on a quest to find the corpse of a local boy struck by a train in the middle of the woods.  Free from the elements of supernatural horror that more typically characterizes King’s work, Stand By Me finds the magic and the epic adventure within small moments bounded by a limited setting.  A race with a train, a showdown with a local bully, stories and secrets shared around a campfire, coming face-to-face with a deer, and other such mundane moments become endowed with mythic resonance, as seen though the recollection of the story’s narrator.

Philosophically speaking, this (like nearly every other film on the list) is essentially a work of existential humanism.  Like The Breakfast Club (#9) this is a coming-of-age tale with the underlying message that we don’t have to become the people others see us as, and that we can reach out to make genuine human connection across the barriers set up to divide us.

I never had friends at age 12 like the ones in the movie, nor did I grow up white in the rural 1950’s.  I would have been a perfect age to see the movie in 1986, yet I never saw it until years later, as an adult.  Despite all this, it still holds a special place in my heart, inhabiting it with the force of memory.

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