Rebel Without a Cause is a coming of age film that journeys into the psychological senses of the teenage mind and heart during the quick-to-change era of the rebellious 1950’s. Rebel Without a Cause is a drama that portrays a gang of emotionally confused suburban teenagers who are lost in a conflict between their desires and their abilities, thoroughly exploiting the moral decay of American youth and the severed ties between the new and old generation between parent and child.
The film begins as it introduces us to the intoxicated Jim Stark who is escorted into the police station where his disoriented family comes to retrieve him. We are then shown the disorderly conflict that is present in Jim’s life from his overbearing and controlling mother to his father who seems to of lost his role as a man and dominant role in the family’s life. This is a crucial scene that exploits the mismatched roles that are taken in Jim’s home life. Jim is incredibly fed up with this process resulting in a desire to leave and go away, something that is no unheard of given we learn that most of Jim’s adolescence to teenage years has been spent moving from place to place to avoid any form of conflict resulting in a sheeted layer of cushion that slowly has built up covering the internal conflict in order to avoid the external conflict.
Meanwhile as Jim is dealing with his own inner conflict of his family life we are introduced to Judy, a teenage girl who desires his father’s affection but is unable to receive it in return. Judy is introduced in the police station where earlier that night she was found aimlessly wandering through the streets after a particularly rough fight with her father. Judy shouts that her father doesn’t love her and doesn’t care. The film continues to open up to the disordered relationship between Judy and her father and how Judy is unable to receive the fatherly love she craves.
Also in the police station on this late Easter evening is young Plato, a teenager who’s absent father and unconcerned mother have resulted in a feeling of abandonment that has added up to create a deeply troubled youth. Plato was pulled into the station for shooting puppies, an act that is terrible and is an obvious example that he is a troubled child but his maid, who portrays a motherly role in the situation, sticks up for him and blames his issues on his unnamed Father’s leaving of the family and then his unnamed Mother’s continual absence from Plato’s critical teenage years resulting in Plato’s deeply troubled persona.
In the opening scene each of the three main youth’s desires are publicized, Jim desire’s his father to be a man and leader, Judy desire’s her father’s affection, and Plato desires a father and mother to play their rightful role in his life. Through these different desires the three somehow come together and the conflict between desire and ability is explored through how the youth interact with each other and their parents. The kids have trouble explaining their desires to their family due to their lack of participation, which results in the youth’s persona for acting out rebelliously and sometimes physically showing the juvenile delinquency of the youth in a film that sympathizes with the teenagers. The film exploits the severed ties between the youth and their parents confusing their desires and abilities in a mesh that causes viewers to sympathize with the film and the teenagers who’s problems aren’t simple matters of needing some extra cash but complex and deep psychological problems that are the most difficult because these problems are unable to be precisely defined.