Stand by Me (1986, Rob Reiner) – Adventure and bittersweet nostalgia

Theme: 1001 films to watch challenge

I’m sure we all have those films. The classics everyone knows about. We have an idea of what the story is, who the characters are, and what conflicts they deal with. Those films that manage to seep their way into the cultural consciousness, and yet you’ve never actually personally gotten around to watching them. I am forever walking around with feelings of guilt over the (very) large holes in my film-viewing history. As a self-proclaimed film-lover, I sometimes feel obliged to watch all films ever produced – an impossible, and also surely not to be recommended, feat.

Luckily someone made a book with a lovely long list of films I ought to watch before I die. I love a good list, so here I am grasping at the opportunity to slowly check off a film from the list. First up; the American 1980’s classic Stand by Me (1986, Rob Reiner).

the gang railroad

As I was watching Stand by Me, I very quickly understood why it has become such a beloved classic. This tale of four best friends, who over two days in the summer of ’59 seek to find the dead body of a local boy, is both slightly absurd, simple, and surprisingly moving. The nostalgia-tinged narrator of a grown-up Gordie, voiced by the charismatic Richard Dreyfuss, perfectly sets the tone along with the fabulously atmospheric 1950’s soundtrack.

It is such a perfectly constructed little world we are invited into by the adult Gordie as he takes us on a journey of remembrance. To a time long gone, with feelings and relationships never to be recaptured.

Little boys with big emotions

Gordie and Denny2

Stand by Me is an emotionally honest meditation on the importance and uniqueness of boyhood friendships. The bonds we have with our friends as children are revealed to be truly special, only once we are removed from within their grips, and able to look back in fondness on the adventures we once shared.

Besides the wonderfully specific environment of rural Oregon with endless train tracks bursting through flat landscapes and forests, the film also draws up four boys with strong individual traits. Even though we only know them for a short time, we sense their histories, their family life, and their possible futures in the colourful interactions they enjoy with each other.

The standout characters are of course best friends Gordie and Chris. They expose themselves completely to each other. Poor out all of their doubts and insecurities and seek comfort in their shared bond of friendship. Gordie the narrator, the storyteller and odd one out of the group is reeling from the death of his elder brother Denny. Gordie is the brain of the group, the writer with potential to get out of the small town of Castle Rock.


Chris Chambers is the sensitive ‘bad boy’. He is the hero grown up in bad circumstances. Living under the burden of his family environment and the unfair expectations society has of him due to this. He is actually an incredibly good nice guy, perceived by society as an inevitable bad boy. But most importantly he is Gordie’s biggest fan and supporter.

Chris Chambers

Vern and Teddy round out the group with their eccentricities, providing humour and a broader range of personalities necessary to complete the whole picture of the small town Castle Rock and its residents.

The bond between these boys is naturally and beautifully conveyed. It is easy to get involved in their easy banter and refreshingly uncensored care for each other. It is surprisingly wonderful to see young boys on screen openly showing affection towards each other. Something that is too often ignored or repressed in film, due to misguided attempts to build up masculinity. These boys are great friends, they love each other and care about each other and this is celebrated in Stand by Me rather than hidden.

A big journey of the heart

Gordie walk

In Stand by Me we are invited to follow along on a journey. It is small if you count it in miles but massive if viewed as a trek within the hearts of these young boys. The two days depicted belong to that exclusive category of days that exist beyond time. The outcome will mark and change the boys for always and live on as a turning point in their lives. So many days dissolve in your memory; slowly flow into one large huddled mass of routine and probable acts from morning till night. These two days in Stand by Me however, become a story and live on as something separate, something important and foundational to Gordie’s very being.

Am I weird?

What a great adventure, what great and honest emotions, what immersive world building, and what recognisable bittersweet nostalgia.


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