Throwback Thursday: 3 decades later, ‘Stand by Me’ still epic

Stand By Me is partially inspired by Stephen Kings novella The Body.

“Stand By Me” is partially inspired by Stephen King’s novella “The Body.”

Four boys walking along a railroad track reach a river and must decide if they’d rather go around or take the railroad bridge and risk getting run over by a train. When one boy doesn’t hesitate, the rest follow him across the bridge.

Directed by Rob Reiner in 1986, “Stand By Me” is not only a movie about a journey to find the dead body of a boy, it is a coming-of-age story where four boys — Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) — grow together and experience peer pressure in the process.

Narrated by the adult version of Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss), the film’s main plot is about the four young boys’ adventure with various anecdotes throughout and a side plot about about an older group of boys who are also looking for the dead boy. Both groups of boys were motivated by the idea of fame to execute their plan to find the corpse. This can be compared to the way that likes on a social media post affect the actions of teenager.

Adolescents take risks because of “heightened neural sensitivity to rewards combined with an inability to maintain cognitive control in the presence of others,” according to an article in The Economist titled, “How Likes Affect Teenagers.” Basically, adolescents generally make decisions based on getting rewarded, and in the case of likes on social media, the reward is peer approval.  The idea of peer approval makes it so that rewards, rather than goals or plans, influence a teenager’s behavior around other people.

In both plot lines, the boys take risks that range from lying to their parents to endangering their own lives in hope of gaining fame and peer approval. For example, when one boy, Teddy, doesn’t hesitate to cross the railroad bridge strung along the river, the other three boys — regardless of their individual traits and fears — follow. The three boys chose the reward of fitting in with their bolder friend over safety.  With social media, likes are the currency of fitting in. A like is a symbol demonstrating value and validation from someone else. In another scene Ace (Kieth Sullivan), the leader of the gang of older boys, forces a truck off the road while playing a game of chicken with his friend, another extreme example of the same thing — chasing acceptance over safety.

“Stand By Me” is a relatable story of growing up thanks to a convincing cast and believable dialogue. While the film includes some heavy emotions, it also makes use of light curiosity typical of a 12 year old, like when Gordie asks what type of animal Disney’s Goofy is. The cinematography is easily interesting because of the film’s location in Brownsville, Oregon, fictionally known within the film as Castle Rock. This location includes vast, rural spaces with mountains and bodies of water.  Cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth uses a variety of shots that help immerse the characters into their environment.  Ruth uses close ups, wide shots, and medium shots of the boys hiking through the woods.  Ruth sometimes uses characters in the foreground, and sometimes uses setting in the foreground.  It is this combination foreground subjects that makes the boys seem at home in the wilderness.  

The film’s focus on peer pressure among friends growing up together keeps it relevant 30 years later. In today’s world, the pursuit of acceptance has mostly moved into the virtual realm. While likes replace high fives and pats on the back, peer pressure still drives teenagers to take risks for the sake of becoming well known and a part of something.