Film note: Stand By Me

Stand By Me
Directed by Rob Reiner
USA, 1986

I wrote my senior thesis about this film, using Kaja Silverman’s The Subject of Semiotics, Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love, and Eve Sedgwick’s The Epistemology of the Closet. [affiliate links] I tried to trace the ideological deformations, diversions and evasions occasioned by adapting Stephen King’s novella, The Body, a more honest work. You can tell that it is from its title.

King’s narrator, Gordie, worries openly about how his relationship with his best friend, Chris Chambers, might appear to others as evidence that they had “gone faggot.” In the end, he concluded he didn’t care, acknowledging the depth of their connection.

As Hollywood films do as a matter of course, the film sublimates all that (with a handful of pungent uses of the other f-word which didn’t occur in the book) into a piece of precious and pretty nostalgia. It’s still an affecting narrative about boyhood friendships, and so not surprisingly winds up feeling more like a romance than anything else.

I also can’t help but feel there was a lot of wink-winking and nudge-nudging going on, on-set. At a key emotional moment, River Phoenix’s Chambers comes awful close to planting one on his best friend crying in his arms. (Try advancing one frame at a time during that scene and you’ll see how close he does come.) The final hoarsely whispered farewell between the two boys sure makes it seem like there’s a missing shot or two, forever lost in the closet.

Additionally, some of the song choices and where they’re placed make the in-jokes even clearer. (Lollipop, lollipop!) And how can anybody watch that gratuitous leech scene and not squirm, as Gordie/Wil Wheaton reaches into his tightie whities, pulls a slug off his balls, then shows it to his friends, dangling it off his bloody fingers just before he faints? I mean, Jesus.

Was all that intentional subtext? I have no idea.

The scene represents teenage emasculation anxiety at the very least, and not just for one character. In my thesis, it was fun speculating.

Summing up the point of my paper in the vernacular: This movie’s so gay.

Watching it 30 years later, I don’t think I was wrong.

Is this a must-see? I really don’t know. It’s dated, certainly, but not entirely, at least not for me. I had those feelings. I’ve felt that nostalgia, remember those almost-kisses. So I’m glad I watched it again.

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