Monday, October 24, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - "Boxing In" Characters; Subtext

[Quick Summary: After a troubled teen moves to a new town, he's challenged to a drag race and everything quickly spirals out of control.]

I am impressed by this script.

Apparently, writer Stewart Stern had a reputation for the "psychological depth of his screen-writing."*  I can now attest that he deserved it.

I like how Stern "boxes in" characters to bring forth emotions, especially through subtext.

In the scene below:

a) Jim is at the police station waiting for his parents (boxed into a tense situation).

b) Father, Mother, and Grandma show up in evening clothes. [Grandma went with the parents on an evening out?!]  Grandma speaks all in subtext.
 
ex. "FATHER: ...You hear all this talk about not loving your kids enough. We give you lvoe and affection, don't we? (silence; Jim is fighting his emotion but his eyes grow wet). Then what is it? I can't even touch you anymore but you pull away. I want to understand you. Why'd you get drunk? You must have had a reason. (Jim stares straight ahead, trying not to listen). Was it because we went to that party? (silence). You know what kind of drunken brawls those parties turn into - it's no place for kids.

MOTHER: A minute ago you said you didn't care if he drinks.

GRANDMA: He said a little drink. [She contradicts mother in subtext.]

JIM (exploding): You're tearing me apart!

MOTHER: What?

JIM: Stop tearing me apart! you say one thing and he says another and then everybody changes back -  [The pent up anger from tensions at home explodes into the open.]

MOTHER: That's a fine way to behave!

GRANDMA (smiling): Well you know who he takes after!" [Her behavior adds fuel to the conflict.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Characters often have to be "boxed in" for those underlying emotions to erupt.  It helps to have a Grandma egg them on too.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
by Stewart Stern
Adaption by Irving Shulman
From a story by Nicholas Ray

*Also, he wrote the mini-series Sybil (1976).  Need I say more?

** In the 1950s, scripts often included a list the characters with a short description of their characteristics. This is the description of Grandma:

"JIM'S GRANDMA: A chic, domineering woman in her sixties who has made her son Frank dependent upon her for every breath he takes. She is the irritant in the household - the silent ruler - the silent enemy of Frank's marriage."

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