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When four friends, age 12, go looking for the body of another 12-year-old who had been hit by a train, an epic journey ensues.
“Stand by Me” (1986) was directed by Rob Reiner and based on Stephen King’s novella “The Body.” It focuses on Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldmen) and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell), who share a bond forged partly by internal damage including abuse, neglect, the death of a brother and derogatory family ties. Their friendship is made up of common fears, insulting one another’s moms and an off-kilter tree house. It’s easy to like these young people and fall into their stories.
While looking for money that he buried beneath his parents' porch, Vern overhears his older brother talking with a friend about seeing the body of a missing boy. The older boys don’t want to report the body to the officials, because they recently had stolen a car and are afraid of being busted. When Vern reports all this to his friends later, they decide to go find the body so they can be recognized for their find, and because they are curious about how a body would look.
After Chris steals his father's pistol to take on the trip, he and Gordie run into local hoodlum John "Ace" Merrill (Keifer Sutherland) and Chris's older brother, Richard "Eyeball" Chambers (Bradley Gregg). Ace threatens Chris with a lit cigarette and steals Gordie's Yankees cap, which had been a gift from Gordie's late brother, Denny (John Cusack).
It’s a 20- to 30-mile walk to where the train must have hit the boy and killed him so, under the guise of camping out with friends, they pack bedrolls and head along the tracks to the place the body lies. The way proves to be many things – fun, frightening, tiring, bonding and a life-changing rite of passage.
As they walk, the boys flee a junkyard dog, fall in a swamp full of slugs, must run from a train when they are caught on a trestle bridge and, eventually, find the body. They have to face off with Ace’s gang for the glory of discovery and, in the end, find their motivation has changed. One of the big messages here is about learning what it does and doesn’t mean to be a hero.
This movie is full of touching moments, one of the most powerful when they find the body, and Gordie stares at it asking, “Why did he have to die?” We know he is not talking about the dead kid, but about his older brother.
“Stand by Me” is perhaps the king of coming-of-age movies, addressing the formative moments of children entering the confusion of growing up and universal truths at the same time. It is probably the best film adaptation of any of Stephen King’s work and, while containing none of his signature supernatural horror elements, it captures the spirit of innocence and childhood wisdom.
Elva K. Österreich may be reached at email@example.com.