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‘Stand By Me’ at 35: Why This Stephen King Tale Remains A Coming-of-Age Classic

A look back at the timeless classic.

Photo Credit: Enrico/Flickr

Rob Reiner’s 1985 film Stand By Me celebrates its 35th anniversary this August. Though the premise of the movie seemed simplistic in nature, Stand By Me proved to be more than four boys in search of a body. The film is a gorgeous, touching work about growing up and expertly straddles the line between childhood and adulthood.

Beautifully adapted by Rob Reiner from the little-known King novella called The Body its a movie that not only captures the spirit of the original tale but also holds a special place in many film fan’s hearts.

The influx in content being produced solely for streaming services has made it easier for authors to see their work come to life. However, no author has ever been as prolific in seeing their work adapted for the screen as the King of Horror himself.

There have been close to 100 feature film and television adaptions of his novels. But whilst the list of horror and fantasy translations grow Stand By Me is arguably the most personal story King has ever written, with its origins tying back to the author’s own experiences in Maine.

Plans for the adaption began in 1983 with Stand By Me producer Bruce A.Evans. He was inspired to adapt after reading the novella The Body. However, Columbia Studios changed the title as the screenwriter Raynold Gideon commented that “it sounded like an adult film, a bodybuilding film, or another Stephen King horror.” Thus Reiner selected Stand By Me based on the classic Ben E.King song.

Credit: CrisMate/Stand By Me Music Video featuring the Movie Cast

The central quartet are all struggling with problems that make them multi-layered and sympathetic. Gordie was for the most part an outsider in King’s novella. However, Reiner made him the main character providing him with the most emotional upheaval.

Reiner established the success of his film by selecting young actors who best captured each character’s personality. According to Will Wheaton (who played Gordie), Reiner captured this “by finding four young boys who basically were the characters they played.”

Will had the sensitivity and intelligence, to play Gordie. Corey Feldman who played Teddy had this rage inside of him because of his own familial background. Jerry O’ Connell who played Fern had never acted before but was naturally humorous. Finally, River Phoenix matched the soul and wisdom that was needed for Chris Chamber’s character despite only being 13 at the time.

Credit: Movieclips/Youtube

Many key moments from the film and the novella mirror King’s own life. In seventh grade there was a controversy about stolen milk money. However, despite King’s character Chris Chambers King was placed above suspicion because of his good reputation. Chris is rather tainted by the reputation of his rough family, and his sobbing breakdown later in the movie remains a powerful emotional highlight in the film.

Reiner explained, he had asked River to: 

“Think of a time when an adult had let you down…or wasn’t there for you. He couldn’t stop crying after that scene.”

Milk Money Scene
Credit: MovieClips/YouTube

Likewise, King had his own terrifying episode involving leeches which plays out fantastically in the infamous pond scene in the film.

Leeches Scene
Credit: MoveClips/YouTube

Stand By Me’s story is thick with a sense of the ever-present danger of social injustice and violent bullies that while make for a thrilling adventure, continuously threaten its protagonists with serious harm.

The antagonist in the film-Ace Merrill [played fantastically by Kiefer Sutherland]
Credit: MovieClips/YouTube

The film expertly splits the difference between a carefree-kid adventure and an emotional drama showcasing the kid’s early knowledge of finding out the terrible truths of the grown-up world.

Reiner’s film is frequently hilarious and full of enjoyable scenes of exhilarating mischief. The junk-yard scramble, race against the train, all have a ring of gleeful chaos that is as nerve-wracking as it is delightful.

The infamous train sequence.
Credit: MovieClips/YouTube.

 By the time the boys reach their goal, we really do feel like we’ve been on a journey with them. Perhaps most notably, Reiner shows that emotional issues can be done with child protagonists. Gordie Lachance proves better than anyone, that you can still be impacted by the horrors of the world even if you’re only twelve.

The 80’s movie is so immersive and deeply felt that by the end you feel as though you’ve spent a whole two days with the characters. It’s an experience you want to have over and over again- a film that truly gets better over time.

For more information on Stephen King, and his writing career in recent times: Click here

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