Rebel Without a Cause + Splendor in the Grass

Double feature: What links “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Splendor in the Grass” in my mind, besides their both being graced by Natalie Wood’s presence, is their equation of adolescence with hysteria.

The teenage protagonists in both films are trapped in warbling desperation, flailing under physical and emotional burdens.  Although surrounded by some of the most adult-acting (and looking) adults on film, they can’t seem to recognize that adolescence is a state they’ll eventually pass through, rather than a permanent condition.

Steel yourself for a fair amount of trembly-lipped, face-clutching melodrama…but there are enough great moments in both movies to repay your tolerance.  The last scene of “Splendor in the Grass,” especially, is a restrained stunner.

For a marathon: More recent depictions of American teenagers provide a stark contrast to these two classics.  To the protagonists of “Juno” and “Election,” adults are merely thicker-waisted peers (and occasional romantic partners,) rather than members of an enemy tribe.

Juno MacGuff faces circumstances arguably more challenging than the ones making Wood and her co-stars hyperventilate – and does so with a maturity and aplomb that any adult would envy.

“Election”‘s Tracy Flick conceives of adolescence as a backward extension of her adult career, and negotiates it accordingly.

Both make it clear that the generation of their elders doesn’t have much more of a handle on life’s challenges than they do.

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “taylorkydd” and “Aaron Landry” at Flickr)

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