Rebel Without a Cause is the story of three teenagers named Jim, Judy and Plato in the 50’s. Although the plot takes place in a time-scale of little bit more than 24 hours, at the end of the movie we feel like we know everything about them, how they feel about life, how their pasts were, how their family lives is like, etc. All have tortured lives; they do not have a happy family life, they do not really like their friends or do not have any, and they hate life.
It is a film that sympathetically views rebellious, American, restless, misunderstood, middle-class youth. Jim is the main character. He is the hero of the audience, not only because he has more scenes in the movie but also because he is the one who makes, or at least tries to make the right decision. He does not think his father acts like a father. That is why he is angry with him and do not want to be a chicken like him. Therefore, he is strong, protective, sincere and smart. For all the other main characters he replaces “their fathers”. [Show the first scene]
This scene establishes the trendy relationship between Jim, Judy, and Plato within the space of extreme social control, the police station. This scene gives the suspense about the relationship between the three main characters and contrasts with later scene in the independent space of the mansion when the three are brought together as a “family. ” The scene also develops themes of Jim’s encouragement qualities and his limited rebellion against authority. It begins with a midshot of Jim sprawled on a chair, mimicking the sound of the siren we hear.
This part of the shot uses shallow space, with Jim’s body taking up the left side of the screen with his right hand in the front plane and his head in the back, creating an awkward, ungainly appearance. The lighting is high-key, although the claustrophobic shot captures the dark browns of the background. In general, he appears blended in and contained. Throughout the sequence, from the time Jim is brought into the police station until he leaves, he is negotiating contained “official” space in relationship with other characters.
In this scene, he has the most independence within the station’s space as he attempts to make a connection with Plato and catches the attention of Judy. The first cut is an eyeline match, as the off screen sound of a siren causes Judy to look behind her. The cut reveals Jim, who is revealed as one source of the now on screen sound of his siren mocking the still off screen sound of a real police siren. This is the second of three times that Judy glances at Jim, all initiated by sound but doesn’t see him.
From the last scene, we know his prank has caught the attention of Judy, building our anticipation of their developing relationship. When a police officer tells him to cut it out, he stops momentarily and then resumes. When the police officer repeats his warning more forcefully, Jim pretends to shoot the officer gunfire style, but then backs down as the officer continues to stare. This action establishes Jim as a rebel (not just someone who has been drinking) but who is limited by the power of the state. Is he a delinquent as identified by the polices? Or just a confused kid?
We enjoy his boldness but recognize his limits. The camera then tracks back and reveals a tall, well-built police officer carrying a cup of coffee and guiding a shorter man in a suit. This reframing creates a more balanced shot. It also reveals a price list for the shoe shine stand and we realize that’s the chair he’s sitting in, which will play an important role when he places his father on the “throne” later in the sequence and a broom, working-class props that contrast with Jim’s upper-class clothing. The broom now divides the space between the officer and Jim.
The paneling and windows accentuate the vertical division of space. Jim seems to remain unconscious, his hand jerking slightly, but stops making the noise. The camera then starts to backtrack in response, but then shifts left and tilts down as Plato is glimpsed. This reframing opens up another plane and deepens the space further, while providing us with our first view of all three main characters in the frame simultaneously. However, at this point they are divided by space (including the strong verticals of the station) and (for Judy) a steel-mesh reinforced window.
Jim and Plato are connected by their dark-and-white outfits, while Judy is set off by her vivid red. Plato is in the front plane mid-left, Judy is in the middle plane far left behind the glass. Dark-complected Plato, who was seen briefly shivering in an earlier shot in the police station is confirmed as an object of interest, heightened by the presence of an African-American woman who is his nanny. The nanny’s observation that Plato is shivering and her question “are you cold? causes Jim’s attempt to give him the jacket, which, along with his questioning of Plato about it later in the scene, further justify our suspense. We also wonder what Plato has done, he seems the most disturbed of the three, as its evident by his shaking and his unwillingness to communicate, which somewhat ready us for the shock of his crime which we expect will be revealed when the detective calls out John Crawford (which is Plato). Our eyes move from Jim to Plato to Judy, the least important figure at this point but a bright one in our mind’s due to her color and the emotion of the last scene.
The sound of an opening door motivates Judy to look up, which motivates the eyeline match shot of Ray (detective) entering the room, heightening our suspense. When Ray delivers the news (although his tone refuses to communicate what he knows is bad news to Judy), there is a cut, and then Judy’s surprised, disappointed “what? “. There is not a cut here, though, as Ray repeats his news. Rather than repeat the shot of Ray, which would show him straight on, the camera stays on Judy and Ray delivers his dialogue offscreen, hightening our sense of disappointment in Ray.
The camera then tracks back and reframes the figures so that Ray and the matron are viewed with their backs to the camera. The next cut delivers a close-up for maximum impact as Judy brushes off Ray’s degrading advice and then flees the frame offscreen right, leaving behind the mirror. The scene also resolves Judy’s predicament unsatisfactorily for her. Ray, the juvenile offender officer, had intimated previously that she was out “looking for company” because she was hoping to get her father’s attention.
Her father’s unwillingness to come get her furthers our anger towards him (this had been told earlier, calling her a tramp and rubbing off the lipstick) and our sympathy towards her. It also hightlights the theme of Ray’s inability to resolve the problems of troubled youth, which will be confirmed later. This theme is punctuated by Ray’s well-meaning but weak advice to “take it easy. ” Finally, Judy leaves her compact mirror behind, which Jim will pick up to hint to us that their awaiting relationship. (The mirror itself reappears in a minor way as a symbol of their growing connection).
The first shot contains an intrusive desk lamp (a suggestion of a police interrogation lamp) and a midshot of Judy, teary-eyed and dominated by the color red. Unlike Jim, she is incapable of claiming space or making gestures of defiance within the station, even temporarily. After they deliver the news, the next shot starts with a midshot of Judy as she receives the news and questions it, and then the camera tracks back and tilts up to capture all of the characters at once. It is a shallow focus, deep volume shot, with Jim’s movements (rubbing his head) catching our attention.
Again, we are shown to the potential connections of the three even as they remained completely disconnected by the narrative and mise-en-sci?? ne. We then get a close-up of Judy as she rejects his advice (“oh sure”), her face now almost a bizarre mask from the effects of her tears, distorted face, and bright red makeup. She exits the frame on the right, the camera lingering on the empty space for a moment. The camera then tilts down and shifts right to a close-up, a somewhat excessive movement motivated by the mirror on the chair that she has left behind and the narrative role it will later play.
The mirror is mostly exposed by top lighting while surrounded by shadow, completing a not very subtle set of formal hitns for our expectation. In the first 10 minutes, we know just about everything we need to know about the character’s background. These features intensify our connection to and concern for the characters. [Show second scene- Planterium trip] In the opening of this scene we are shown the image of Jim’s car being driven between the parked buses, outside the planetarium. The car appears from behind the first school bus and travels off towards the right of the frame.
We cut to a shot of the car, from above and behind, driving towards the planetarium and as the car disappears in the distance the camera re-frames (by way of a slight shift to the right) on the planetarium building. This is a long shot, we are told that we are at the planetarium, but we are also told that Jim is late. The fact that Jim is late makes him an outsider. As he enters the theatre and gives his name to the teacher, we notice an echo on his voice. This, coupled with the silence among the other students, gives us the impression that, socially, Jim is isolated.
When attempting to find a seat, he interrupts a group of students, a group involving, among others, Buzz and Judy. From the long shot we see this as a ‘ripple effect’ as he moves through the isle. Possibly this could be a metaphor for the social unrest caused by his arrival in the town. Jim has not yet noticed Plato, who is sitting behind him and to his left. For much of this scene whenever Plato speaks to Jim he enters Jim’s frame. The significance of this may lie in the way Plato appears over Jim’s left shoulder.
It can also be noted that initially Jim does not look back at Plato when they are talking, this is possibly to give rise to the idea of Plato’s insignificance in Jim’s life at that moment. It is also interesting note the way that the mise en scene differentiates between the two groups involved in this scene. The first group, consisting of Jim and Plato, is dressed in neutral shades, that is black (or at any case, near black) and white. The other group, and this is a much larger group, consisting of Judy, Buzz and the other “followers” and to some extent much of the remaining student body, are wearing predominantly reds, greens and yellows.
This, once again, brings to our attention the separation of Jim and Plato. The fact Jim is attempting to fit in and make friends is undeniable, especially taking into account the way he looks around after saying “Boy”. It is clear that he is looking at any form of approval. When Jim comments on Taurus starsign with “Moo”, Judy initially smiles as she turns around, indicating that she was amused, but the smile falls from her face when she realises Buzz is not amused. This leads to the idea that she is just Buzz’s puppet. Hence this supports the fact that we see Judy as a weak character in the beginning.
Buzz places his arm around Judy’s shoulder, signifying that he is now aware of Jim’s presence, and is marking his territory, yet he leans away from her and is consequently now mainly stayed in darkness. Possibly this is significant of the fact that he will be gone fairly soon, yet Judy will still feel some sort of devotion towards him. When the planetarium’s display of the stars reaches the point when the explosion takes place, the students watch the ball of gas grow and grow, but when the explosion actually takes place, we are presented with a shock cut to a shot of the students looking up.
Because we are not physically present, we cannot be expected to understand the power that this moment has if we were just to watch it. Instead we see the way the students react, thereby giving us an understanding of the way we would be meant to feel had we been there. At the time of the explosion the groundwork for the idea for Jim to become Plato’s father figure is laid. Plato ducks behind Jim. This use of Jim as a guard is representative of the respect Plato has for Jim. [Last scene – Plato’s death]
As it is their story, they are all in the first scene and in the last one. The time frame of the film’s plot is set over a little more than one twenty-four hour period in status-conscious mid-50’s Los Angeles, and confined to a limited number of locations. Both the beginning and ending of the film occur at nighttime (late night and early morning hours respectively) and are marked by the sound of approaching and departing police car sirens. The film ends with the fatal transference of Jim’s red jacket to Plato.
Covering of Plato with a jacket marks his growing trust of Jim but also Jim’s ultimate failure to protect him. The director’s use of cinemascope and mise-en-scene is much more creative than editing is. Using the cinemascope he shows us not only the characters but also the picture of the society around them. At the end of the movie, we feel a sense of satisfaction even though Plato died. When Jim’s dad says “I’ll stand up with you”, shows that he is acting like a father to Jim now, someone who supports him and doesn’t chicken out when trouble comes and stands up to his dominating mother.