We are all haunted by childhood's end, by the important things we must leave behind on our long and arduous journey into adulthood: the intensity of our loves, fears, and hurts; the talismanic rituals and games; the laughter and bravado; and the deep bonds of friendship.
All these things and more are presented in Stand By Me, one of the sweetest and most affecting films ever made about the darkness at the edge of town that must be faced before four young boys can move on to the new challenges that junior high school will bring them. This film, adapted by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans from Stephen King's novella, "The Body," is beautifully written and performed. The DVD release includes an audio commentary by director Rob Reiner, the promotional trailer and a background featurette, and the music video of the classic title song.
The story is narrated by the adult Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss), a successful writer who recalls the summer of 1959 when he was twelve years old in the small Oregon town of Castle Rock. Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and his friends Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) have their own little tree house where they play cards, smoke cigarettes, and crack jokes. It is the end of the summer and they need a really great adventure. When Vern tells them that he heard his brother talking about seeing the dead body of a boy who's been missing for a few days down by the railroad tracks, they decide to locate the corpse and become heroes in the eyes of the townsfolk.
Gordie is still mourning the death of his older brother and resents the way his parents have treated him as an "invisible boy" since the tragedy. Chris, who's been abused by his alcoholic father, has been pegged as a bad kid by everyone. Teddy's father is in a mental institution, and Vern gets no respect because of his squeamishness. For each of them, this two-day trek is a test of courage, physical stamina, and camaraderie. Can they rise above their fears and insecurities? Will they be able to find something special inside themselves and with each other that can transcend the low regard their families and others have of them?
Their journey takes them down the railroad tracks to a junkyard where they encounter an angry man. While crossing a railroad bridge over a river, they must literally run for their lives when a train appears around the bend. Over a campfire in the woods, Gordie tells a story he's created about a fat boy who takes out his revenge on a town at an annual pie-eating contest. Later in the evening, he breaks down and reveals to Chris how hurt he is by his father's lack of love for him. His friend affirms Gordie's storytelling talent and counsels him to be patient with his dad who doesn't really know him.
When they finally locate the corpse of the missing boy, a group of Castle Rock thugs led by Ace (Kiefer Sutherland) show up to challenge them; they want to take credit for finding the body. Gordie stands by Chris in a show of strength. The two boys in the presence of fear and a threat to their own lives come of age together.
In an article on "Hanging Out Together Movies" in the New York Times, novelist Avery Corman wrote: "Men have important friendships with other men when they are young which end as they enter adulthood and whose like they will probably not experience again for the rest of their lives." Stand By Me, thanks to Rob Reiner's flawless direction, captures and conveys the warmth, intimacy, and sensitivity of such a relationship. The film is both an ode to youthful friendship and a lament for the loss of that precious bond between grown men.