Discussion Questions for Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
Contextualizing Rebel without a cause
According to David Buckingham (2003), “media texts do not simply appear from nowhere.” (p. 75) In light of Buckingham’s quote and in light of the fact that Rebel without a Cause was a film made in 1955, do some research to find out information about economic, social, and cultural contexts in post-war America. Discuss to what extent this information can be used to understand the context of the film.
Comment on the following excerpt: “Rebel without a Cause is paradigmatic of a series of discourses in the 1950s that question and represent the American teenager and the social demands on and of that group.” (Loizidou in Slocum, 2005, pp. 192-193)
Do some research to find out about the possible reasons for Hollywood’s interest in young audiences in post-war America.
Do some research to find out about how the film was received in the United States of America and in Europe when it was released.
The title sequence
Watch the title sequence of the film (which lasts 1 minute and 23 seconds) and discuss how it contributes to our understanding of the film.
How does the title sequence represent youth and why?
Could the way Jim is lying on the street signify something?
Does the title sequence display any contrasting images as far as Jim is concerned?
In what way(s) could the director’s use of the lines of the Cinemascope frame contribute to our understanding of the film and its characters?
The titles are red in color. What could this signify? Are there any other scenes where the red color is significant? Discuss why. Can you think of any other significant color in the film? What could it signify?
The Police Station Juvenile Division Sequence
What could be the function of this sequence in the film?
Comment on how youth is constructed in this part of the film.
Comment on how adults are depicted in this part of the film.
What does Jim’s family represent in the film? (You may need to refer to the whole film to answer this question)
Could this part of the film signify something about race relations?
Comment on the director’s use of space and spatial relations (e.g. glassed cubicles as offices, close-ups, angles of the camera) in the police station. What message could the director be conveying to his audiences? Does the director use space and spatial relations similarly elsewhere in the film? How? Why?
Why does Plato shoot puppies? What could this represent?
The knife fight and chickie run sequences
Discuss how young people are represented in the knife fight and chickie run sequences.
What could the knife fight and the chickie run represent in the film?
The mansion and Plato’s death sequences
What does the abandoned mansion represent in the film?
What does the mansion mean to Plato, Judy and Jim? What do they do there?
What do Plato’s mismatched socks represent? How do they contribute to our understanding of Plato and the film?
Think about the color of Plato’s socks and Jim’s jacket and comment on the use of color in these.
What could Plato’s death at the end of the film signify?
Some more questions
Comment on what the Griffith Park Observatory sequence signifies.
Comment on why the film is called “Rebel without a Cause”.
Discuss who could be the real rebel in the film.
Is there a homosexual motif in the film? If there is, please explain how it is explored.
What do you think about the ending of the film? What message could it give to the audiences as far as youth and adults are concerned? Discuss to what extent you agree with this.
Discuss how the film explores the theme of masculnity.
Comment on the following quotations by some of the characters in the film
Jim: You’re tearing me apart!
Jim: They think that they can protect me by moving around all the time.
Jim: If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop pickin’ on him, because they make mush out of him.
Judy’s mother: She’ll outgrow it dear, it’s just the age…It’s just the age when nothing fits.
Jim’s father: Listen, you’re at a wonderful age. In ten years you’ll look back on this…and then wish that…
Plato: Hey, you want to come home with me? I mean there’s nobody home at my house and heck, I’m not tired. Are you? See, I don’t have too many people I can talk to…If you want to come, we could talk, and in the morning, we could have breakfast like my dad used to. Gee, if only you could have been my dad.
Comment on the following quotations by some movie critics:
“….it [Rebel without a Cause] is a subversive document of its time.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“The drama and hepcat dialogue feel clunky now, but the movie’s plea for dads to talk to their children – what we now call emotional literacy – is valid enough.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Rebel without a Cause has as much to say today as it did in the 1950s.” Chris Wood, Senses of Cinema
“Rebel really belongs entirely to Dean and his iconic red windbreaker.” Don Willmott, Film Critic
“…the spirit behind the film’s “rebellious youth” continues to resonate, and is worth re-visiting.” John Nesbit, Culture Cartel
Comment on the taglines(*) below. To what extent do they reflect the spirit of the film?
Teenage terror torn from today’s headlines
Warner Bros’. challenging drama of today’s juvenile violence!
…and they both come from ‘good’ families!
To Belong…and be loved.
Jim Stark… a kid from a ‘good’ family – what makes him tick… like a bomb?
Warner Bros. put all the force of the screen into a challenging drama of today’s juvenile violence!
The bad boy from a good family.
© Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, October 2007
(*) Source for the taglines: imdb.com
Photo credit © CMG Worldwide