I believe that the film Rebel Without a Cause made a giant contribution to the history of the cinema, and American teenage society for that matter. Rebel Without a Cause was one of the first films made that dealt with contemporary struggles that teenagers face. Today, there are hundreds of movies with teens as the central theme, but back in the early to mid 1950's, this theme was much less common.
The 1950's was the age of the true teenage rebels--the "guys" with the leather jackets that came with pocket knives in the sleeves. The girls played the role of sidekick, usually with a cigarette in their mouths. These rebellious teens were excellently portrayed in the movie. They were kids that taunted Jim, the main character played by James Dean, a brilliant actor. It started with simple name calling and ended in death for the pack leader, who ultimately summoned his own death by challenging Jim to a "chickie run." Although the theme of bullies and gangs are a part of the movie, its central theme is the life and struggles of Jim, who cannot seem to make friends, stay out of trouble, and earn the respect of his parents.
Rebel Without a Cause was a huge hit during its release because it dealt with actual problems that teens of the day dealt with. They could finally relate to something, and share the same feelings that Jim was having, and trying to express to his parents. Throughout the movie, Jim befriends another troubled boy, who has been an outsider as well. Finally in the end he falls in love with Judy, the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader, who, for the first time in his life, loves him back.
The ending has an ambiguous feel that many people, especially teens can relate to. On one hand, Jim has finally overcome some of his relationship difficulties by making a friend and a lover; however, it is not a completely happy ending. Jim's friend ends up getting shot and killed. Teens can relate to this movie not only literally but metaphoncally as well. It is about gaining self esteem, but many times in order to solve your problems you must suffer some loss as well.
Rebel Without a Cause was a major inspiration to the younger audience of the 1950's. It was also the pioneer of a huge movie genre that is still around and flourishing today--teen movies. This movie is comparable to Bonnie and Clyde, which we viewed in class. Both deal with young rebels who although may do immoral acts, are still likable characters who you root for in the end. Also death is also a factor in both films, as two of the main characters die in Bonnie and Clyde and one main character dies in Rebel.