Nostaligia in Stand By Me

Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, The Body, begins with the narrator, Gordy, sitting in his car and looking at an article detailing the death of a lawyer, Chris Chambers. Gordy then delves into the story of the first time he ever saw a dead body. And thus, Stand By Me begins. With the exception of a few minutes on at both the start and end of the film, the movie is essentially one long flashback- to a small journey made by the narrator and his three closest friends, the summer after they complete grade school. A major “transitioning” period, if you fill, for any young boy and girl. From the get go we are granted access into their world as they toe the lines between boys and young men: a world in which cigarettes and cards are as much the norm as impromptu races and make believe stories. Their journey serves to, they hope, make them home town legends- the first ones to publicly discover a particular corpse of a missing peer, located a day’s walk down the train tracks.

The soundtrack contributes greatly to the “time warp” effect the movie has (as do the greaser bullies and classic cars). Lots of malt shop memory classics. The adult voice of Gordy is also pretty saturated with emotion in the sense that the words he uses to describe his memories throughout the film (as they play in front of us) are quite fond. In particular, after his friend Vern declares “This is really a good time.” and the rest of the gang nods in agreement, the voiceover chimes in:
“Vern didn’t just mean being off limits inside the junkyard or fudging on our folks, or going on a hike up the railroad tracks to Harlow. He meant those things, but it seems to me now it was more, and that we all knew it. Everything was there and around us, we knew exactly who we were and exactly where we were going. It was grand.”

This scene in particular the intensity of the relationship between Chris Chambers (the attorney) and narrator while the more “childlike” characters compare cartoons. They are walking along the train tracks carrying an old radio. The lighting coming in through the trees makes Chris and Gordy glow like preteen kings until the conversation turns sour- then the slew of curse words about education interlaced with Vern and Teddie’s conversation about Mighty Mouse toes the balance between the adult and the adolescent. The flashback is set in 1959, just before the turn into the tumultuous decade of the 60s, and we can see the distrust and disappointment in the older generations (“your parents are too fucked up to do it”).

The boys eventually do reach the body, though along the way are run ins with blood sucking leeches, a fireside storytelling session, and a show down with the town bullies. In the end, however, they decide that even though they came a long way (“We were supposed to be heroes.” “Not this way, Teddie.”), “an anonymous phone call was best.”

As each of the boys say goodbye to each other in the final scene, it’s only for the evening, but somehow it feels like for much longer even as it’s happening. Then, the narrator comes in once more, an adult in front of us, a writer. A shot of his computer screen reveals the sentiment “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”


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