My mother was a kid in the 60’s and, upon listening to my feelings about “Rebel Without a Cause,” told me that her gang of friends always called it “Rebel Without a Clue,” and I have never heard such an apt description.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve gone most of your life hearing about the James Dean classic “Rebel Without a Cause” as the movie to best represent the 1950’s, and the conversation pretty much ends there. At this point we all know Dean to be non-hetero when he was alive, but after watching “Rebel” for the first time I’m surprised the audience of the day didn’t ban this film for its homoerotic undertones. Or the opening line “he shot puppies.” Stick with me and you’ll see what I mean.
THE WEIRDEST PLOT, MAYBE EVER?
Here are the basic points to “Rebel”:
> Cute boy who is an supernaturally strong magnet for trouble moves to town, befriends a rich psychotic kid
> Within a minute of seeing Cute Boy, Head Bully forces him into a knife fight for no reason
> Head Bully forces Cute Boy to a car race to settle beef they literally don’t have
> Head Bully fucking dies, dude
> Everyone runs home and argues with their clearly abusive parents
> Cute Boy, Pretty Girl and Psycho run away and hide in an abandoned mansion next to the museum
> Psycho loses it and gets shot for being an incel dumb-ass and I don’t feel bad about it
> That’s it? That’s…the end.
WHAT’S SO GAY ABOUT IT?
Keeping in mind that this film was made in the 50’s and uses potentially harmful stereotypes, here are the Gayest Moments (by character):
HEAD BULLY really takes the cake, starting with a phallic knife fight because of his repressed sexuality, immediately helping James “not straight” Dean with a cigarette, then giving him the biggest bedroom eyes probably ever (see above).
JAMES DEAN is what we call a Chaotic Bisexual. No matter where he goes he manages to attract chaos. He practically snuggles the Psycho Kid in a dark planetarium, falls in love with a girl at first sight, does his best to never wear sleeves and pouts at anyone he finds remotely attractive. The way he made his hand brush sensually against the bully’s? How he tenderly pet Psycho Kid’s hair while listening intently? The straightest Mormon girl could spot him from a hundred yards away.
PSYCHO KID, who nicknames himself “Plato” in the biggest Drama Twink move possible, immediately bonds to James Dean as his Daddy. That hair, the manicure? You’re kidding me, right?
Woefully, this movie focuses so much on toxic masculinity the gay way that our beloved Potential Lesbian, PRETTY GIRL, is left in the dust. I have a feeling she’s everyone’s beard anyways, which is a mix of sexist and typical from a gay fan-fiction.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘FAN-FICTION’?
Fan-fiction is notorious for getting incredibly off-topic and outlandish to a fault, specifically fan-fiction written by teens (here is a prime example). I’m not saying all teen-written fan-fiction is bad, but we all know the type of teen I’m talking about who would write the plot of this movie. As you may expect, there are some items on the ‘fanfic’ requirement list specifically for high school/college alternate universes, let’s say the Golden Rules™, and here they are:
Literally don’t go to class. Don’t do it. Stop that.
Make every adult outlandishly and ridiculously incompetent, particularly at doing their day jobs
Create a perilous situation from thin air to create forced drama, you don’t need a reason. Even better if you don’t have one
Little understanding of the concept of death or abuse and is thus used with wanton abandon
Clear inability to articulate angst or mental illness, and thus exaggerates to cover this up
We hit all five of the Golden Rules™ in an astounding saga of angst, as follows:
We never see the inside of a school
Teachers, security guards and the nanny (a racist caricature) all suck and the police are practically begging to shoot an unarmed child (a racist reality)
The knife fight, the car chase, the police shoot out
The bully dying and all of the main characters getting over it immediately, on-the-nose scripting of Pretty Girl’s dad (he calls her the 1950’s version of a prostitute with no backstory)
The Psycho Kid is introduced moments after shooting puppies to death and it’s treated like no big deal, the ENTIRE third act of the main characters hiding in a conveniently abandoned mansion while pretending to be a dysfunctional family, psycho kid losing his marbles and getting violent over not knowing where his friends are
No matter which angle you look at it, “Rebel without a Cause” is one of the best-known gay fan-fictions to every exist. What’s it a fiction of? Conformity, of course.
Yeah, this movie is a painful gay fan-fiction through and through, but I get why. When you’re not allowed to feel things that aren’t “picture perfect” you tend to overflow, and with a target audience, director and writer with the probable the emotional capacity of a 15 year old boy this entire film begins to make sense. “Rebel” is campy, but it’s also an honest depiction of the emotional trauma teens felt in the age of forced perfection.
Next time you see your grandma, ask her what her favorite gay fan-fiction is.
If you want to rent or buy “Rebel Without a Cause” to make your own judgement, stop by Gorehound’s Playground on Drake and Shields.
(All stills from “Rebel Without a Cause,” Warner Bros., 1955)