Rebel Without a Cause

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1955 marked the year in which Nicholas Ray's film Rebel Without a Cause was released as the latest Hollywood success. With its revolutionary acting and modern style, Rebel Without a Cause proved to be an ideal example of progressive, contemporary cinema. Amidst these factors is the intricate screenplay regarding a rebellious adolescent and his troubled relationships with his family and new found friends. Unfortunately, this was a film that was produced in the mid-1950s, a time when the self-censorship board in the U.S. did not permit certain political and societal issues to be addressed in films. As a result, various controversial matters could only be suggested or implied, opposed to directly dealt with. One such issue that Rebel Without a Cause subtly portrays, is the subject of gender politics and sexuality, a theme seldom encountered in preceding films. One scene in the film appears to discretely address the theme of sexuality in particular. In this scene, Plato reveals the contents of his school locker as he transitions between classes. The manner in which the scene is constructed and presented, manages to convey Plato's failure to meet society's expectations as he struggles with his blossoming homosexuality.

Upon examining the mirror in his locker, Plato manages to portray himself as a character who is unacceptable in terms of society's standards. In the mirror, he observes an image of Jim opposed to his own reflection. Symbolically, it is suggested that Plato sees himself as a person who is similar to Jim's character. As Jim is the ‘rebel' of the film, his character represents the nonconformists in society. Plato's symbolic, self-comparison of his character augments his own image as a ‘rebel' and misfit in society. Consequently, many of Plato's personal tribulations (his exclusion from the school crowd, his urges to kill small animals and primarily his sexual confusion) can be partially attributed the society's response to him as a ‘rebel'.

Jim's actions immediately after Plato sees him in the mirror, further supplement the suggestion of his sexual confusion. Here we witness Jim bewilderingly enter the men's washroom in a disoriented fashion, whereby he checks the sign above the door twice to reassure himself that he is in the right place. If we assume that Jim in this sequence indeed represents Plato's symbolic image of himself, then it becomes reasonable to believe that Jim's confusion exists among Plato as well. Moreover, the confusion speaks somewhat about Plato's sexual uncertainty as a growing teenager. In witnessing Jim's uncertain actions of which bathroom he is entering, the idea is figuratively promoted that his character is as well hesitant in terms of where his sexual preference stands with respect to the rest of the general public. Consequently an association is established with regards to Plato, which illustrates his unsuccessful attempts to consolidate a definite sexuality and position in society as a result.

In a similar manner, through the use of point of view and the gaze, Nicholas Ray exhibits some of Plato's subtly, homosexual predispositions. More specifically the ‘male gaze' is a technique which is conventionally used when a male character affirms his dominance over a female character in a sexual manner. As a close up shot of one character's eyes juxtapose a shot of an unknowing character, an association is drawn between the two images, giving significance and an understanding of the thoughts of the ‘gazer'. While looking into his mirror, Plato is caught in a seemingly ‘homosexual gaze' shot as his eyes become fixated upon Jim. As the shots exchange and repeat themselves, two fundamental things are accomplished: Firstly, a relationship between the two characters is foreshadowed; and secondly, Plato manages to portray elements of his thought patterns, giving the viewer a better understanding of his ulterior goals. This moment in the film is the benchmark which...
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