So much homoeroticism.
It’s not that subtle, either. John “Plato” (the nickname is a big clue) is disliked at school, he has a picture of a man hanging in his locker, and he begs Jim (James Dean) to spend the night at his house because “No one’s home there.” Plato gives Jim a seriously hurt/jealous look when Jim arrives at the abandoned mansion with Judy. When Jim and Judy recline together in the same house, Plato joins them, but rests his head on Jim’s arm, not Judy’s. Plato has an absent father, Jim lives with a weak father and domineering mother–two “causes” of homosexuality, according to 1950-speak.
My favorite bit was at the end of the movie. Jim, his arm around Judy, tells his parents, “This is Judy. She’s my friend.” As he escorts Judy away, the parents look at each for a long moment. Then the mom says, “That means he’s . . . ” and they both burst into smiles of pure relief. All too clear the word Mom didn’t say was “straight.”
The movie is hailed as a masterpiece, one of the defining works of cinema of what became the Baby Boomer generation, but I have to say my overall reaction was . . . meh. The storytelling was slow and clunky. Even allowing for the time period, the characters were flat and stereotypical. The plot wandered. More than once, I found myself saying, “Where is this going?” It was worth watching as a piece of historical arcana, but I wouldn’t put it on any top ten list, or even top fifty.
–Steven Harper Piziks