Movie Review: Rebel Without a Cause


Timothy Neuhaus ’18

On October 27, 1955, Rebel Without a Cause was released in theaters, starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. The film is praised for its depiction of discontented and emotionally confused teenagers conflicting with each other while also displaying the banality of adult life. Filled with social commentary on the moral decay of American youth in the 1950s and its philosophical musings on finding one’s place in the world (and universe), the film’s provocative nature has cemented it as an essential viewing of American cinema. Everything about the film is iconic from Dean’s red jacket to its famous opening scene and to its acclaimed script.

I woke up this morning, you know… and the sun was shining, and it was nice, and all that type of stuff. And the first thing, I saw you, and, uh, I said, “Boy, this is gonna be one terrific day, so you better live it up, because tomorrow you’ll be nothing.” You see? And I almost was.

The film’s indelible mark on American culture resonates still as it is a landmark of American cinema.

James Dean plays Jim Stark, a maladjusted teen who struggles to make friends because his parents force their family to move constantly. Natalie Wood is Judy, a teen struggling for emotional connection. Sal Mineo is John “Plato” Crawford, a neurotic and lonely teen abandoned by his parents. Each character struggles in their life at home: Jim is frustrated with his parents, Judy struggles to connect with her father, Sal is abandoned by his parents and left to the care of a housekeeper. As events transpire in the film, the characters learn of each other’s emotional insecurities and connect in an almost familial like bond. Occurring over the course of only a day, the movie is fast-paced, but never sacrifices its emotion. Nor does it slack in pacing. Dean’s portrayal of a troubled teen is intense, raw, and realistic. Wood and Mineo’s portrayals are equally intense and captivating. The characters are introduced to one another by chance in a police station, but over a 24 hour period, they are intertwined in a film depicting the melancholy and confusion of youth.