Stand by Me is today widely regarded as a classic cult movie about four boys’ journey from childhood to adulthood. This 1986 coming-of-age drama directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally…, A Few Good Men) has become a timeless manifesto of youth and friendship that has transcended generations. Based on the novella The Body by American author Stephen King (It, Carrie, The Shining), published in 1982, this is not the only movie Rob Reiner has made based on one of King’s works. In 1990 he directed Misery, centered around King’s novel of the same name.
The movie’s title comes from Ben E. King‘s famous song, Stand by Me, originally recorded in 1961.
A rite of passage
Writer Gordie LaChance (Richard Dreyfuss) tells the story he is turning into a novel: a memoir about his youth in Castle Rock, Oregon. Set in the summer of 1959, it is the story of four children who set out on a journey to find the body of a young boy who disappeared near the town a few days earlier. They are Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is a quiet boy with a passion for telling stories. He lost his beloved big brother in a car accident. Chris (River Phoenix) is Gordie’s best friend and the one who seems to understand him best. He wants to get rid of his family’s bad reputation. Teddy (Corey Feldman) is the most eccentric of the group. His father is a mentally insane ex-soldier. Lastly, Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is the most clumsy and accident-prone. He is often the victim of the group’s mockery.
The journey to find a dead body turns into a journey to find themselves. A rite of passage through which the four lost children return home matured and changed forever. Using a nostalgic perspective, Rob Reiner tells a story that explores the innocence of childhood and the power of friendship. But the movie also focuses on the inner traumas and insecurities typical of growing up. The way Stand by Me tackles its themes makes it similar to other coming-of-age stories such as Lesli Linka Glatter‘s Now and Then (1995) and Stephen Chbosky‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).
Recreating Maine’s topography
Castle Rock is a small fictional town in Maine (the movie changed its location to Oregon) created by Stephen King. It is the setting for many of his novels such as The Dead Zone (1979) and Doctor Sleep (2013). In addition, Castle Rock is also a Hulu anthology TV show featuring characters and themes from King’s stories.
This is not unusual for Stephen King. Indeed, the author has also created the fictional Maine towns of Derry (the setting of It, Insomnia, and 11/22/63) and Jerusalem’s Lot (Salem’s Lot).
The power of the ’80s
A group of outsiders venturing out and discovering the power of friendship as a means of survival and redemption is a central theme not only in Stand by Me but also in other movies of the 1980s. A notable example is Richard Donner‘s The Goonies (1985). Fun fact: the main cast of The Goonies includes Corey Feldman (Teddy in Stand by Me).
Hence, thanks to a poetic representation of brotherhood and the journey from childhood to adulthood, Stand by Me has become a classic cult movie that has successfully transcended generations. Indeed, the movie’s popularity still echoes today along with other ’80s movies that successfully explored the theme of friendship, and proved to have lasting power. Such as Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Outsiders (1983), John Hughes‘s The Breakfast Club (1985), and Joel Schumacher‘s St. Elmo’s Fire (1985).
It is no mystery that the Duffer brothers found great inspiration in Stand by Me and other ’80s pop culture in creating their Netflix show Stranger Things. Indeed, Matt Duffer stated that they auditioned the kids for Stranger Things using scenes from Stand by Me. Plus, talking about the movie, Ross Duffer said:
Of course, watching Stand by Me is, to me, the pinnacle of child performances in movies or shows. It doesn’t get much better than that, and those kids, you feel like you know them instantly and they feel real.Ross Duffer in an interview for Vulture
In the end, Stand by Me proves that movies can define an era and a generation. And that they can continue to inspire audiences and storytellers many years after their release.