I’ve written about my love for the Band of Brothers miniseries — how it profoundly moved me and impacted my views on male friendship and brotherhood. There is, however, a movie that’s moved me even more to my core: the 1986 Ron Reiner classic, Stand By Me.
Stand By Me is one of the few, if only, movies I’ve seen that takes relationships between males seriously. Most movies seem to treat such relationships as a joke, tongue-in-cheek, or just as a ploy for the main male character to get laid by a woman.
Sometimes you get the sense that a movie might actually be going somewhere by showing what seems like a deep male friendship, but then it winks at the audience like: Yeah, they’re close, but not THAT close, know what I mean? D’ohohoho, we’re so clever.
Stand By Me, however, takes the time to analyze and display such relationships with real, raw, emotional intimacy — made even more poignant since the main characters are preteen boys who have yet to experience any social inhibitions limiting the potential of their relationships.
So, what’s the story? A young 12-year-old boy named Gordie Lachance, played by Wil Wheaton, lives in an idyllic 1950’s small town in Maine (a giveaway that, yes, this movie is based on a Stephen King novel). Gordie is friends with several local boys who include Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell), and his best friend, Chris Chambers (River Phoenix).
The boys hear a report of a kid who was hit and killed by a train and that the body’s location hasn’t yet been found by authorities. So, they set out on an adventure through the wilderness to find the body and be rewarded as heroes for their efforts. They experience various misadventures along this journey of self-discovery, learning the true nature of friendship while avoiding some bullies who intend to find the body first.
Boy is it an emotional rollercoaster.
The whole story is told via flashback, written by a grown up version of Gordie. At the end of the film, he stares at his finished draft on his computer and writes:
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I did when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
Well . . . not me. I sort of had a couple of friends when I was twelve. The one boy I occasionally hung out with was an obnoxious fat kid obsessed with video games and farts. We spent most of our time together in his computer room just playing video games and, sadly, not much more apart from that.
Stand By Me makes me pine for what I wish I could have had in my childhood but also makes me grateful for the friendships I have now as an adult.
So, where to begin with this movie? Honestly, there’s a lot.
Stand By Me‘s focus is the relationships among the four boys. They all come from broken families and bond together to form their own family.
Gordie’s dead older brother has caused his parents to ignore him.
Teddy has an abusive, crazy father who nearly burned his ear off on a stove.
Vern has a violent older brother.
And Chris comes from a violent redneck family.
The heartbeat of Stand By Me, though, is the relationship between Chris and Gordie who share several intimate moments together.
Gordie was very close with his older brother, and his loss was a major one. Chris becomes something of a surrogate brother for Gordie.
Now, this brotherly bond isn’t quite ideal for a sensitive romantic like me, as the two boys often make crude comments to each other, smoke, and try to beat each other up after some disagreements.
And yet despite all that, their love for each other resonates with me so deeply.
To further demonstrate why I love Stand By Me, I want to discuss three scenes in detail. They are somewhat spoilery, so beware if you haven’t yet seen the movie.
The first scene is a flashback of Gordie with his older brother, Dennis, when he was still alive — a brief, simple scene that says so much about their relationship. It moved me on a level different from the other scenes because watching it made me feel like I was watching the ghost of something I’ve never had and have deeply longed for.
It turns out Gordie has a talent for writing stories that Dennis seemed to appreciate and encourage in him while his parents didn’t care. The only other person in the movie who seems to nurture Gordie’s writing talent are his three friends — and especially his best friend, Chris.
In this second scene, the four boys venture further down the railroad tracks to find the dead body, and their goofy, wannabe macho exteriors start to erode. They begin to talk vulnerably with each other for the first time.
Just a fair warning: this clip contains some language.
It’s such a poignant line, Chris passing on some spiritual wisdom to Gordie:
“It’s like God gave you something, man. All those stories you can make up. And He said this is what we got for you, kid. Try not to lose it.”
I only wish I’d had a friend who could talk to me like that at his age. Someone to confirm my gifts are from God and that I should nourish them.
Sure, I got plenty of comments from adults about my artistry, but never that much from my peers. A YouTube comment on this clip reads: “If you have a friend who talks to you like this, then you really have a friend.”
Lastly, there is this scene:
Oh this scene . . . gosh this scene!
It cuts to my heart’s longings for male relationships for all my life. A longing that doesn’t have lust or homoeroticism at the center of it. A longing to let down all emotional guards and unleash full-blown emotional vulnerability with another loving brother.
I’m sure crying to a woman has its benefits as well, but it wouldn’t be quite the same as with a man. Growing up, I was told all men were to “suck it up” if they felt like crying. And God help you if you were seen by other men crying.
Before I saw Stand By Me, I often pondered if my longing for emotional, intimate relationships with other men was a need inherent in all men or if it was just the same-sex attraction in me doing all the talking.
Stand By Me seems to prove that intimacy with fellow males is, in fact, a very real thing. Especially since the relationships in this story were based on Stephen King’s and Rob Reiner’s own childhood friendships. These types of relationships were indeed a thing in the past even if they’re sadly not as common now.
I once didn’t know men of any age were even capable of such relationships with other men. This movie gave me that new perspective.
There was a time when I was inspired to write or make movies and stories just like Stand By Me. I would show our homophobic society that relationships like the ones in this movie can be wonderful and should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, I think our society would say, “You’re just promoting this crap because you’re gay and it turns you on. Nothing more.”
Ultimately, I recommend all men watch Stand By Me, gay and straight alike. Both sides can see the possibility and reality of brotherhood and friendship, how platonic relationships can sometimes be as fulfilling and deep as romantic ones.
It’s not something we often see in this day and age, but it really rings a timeless message.
Have you seen Stand By Me? Did it move you as well? What other shows or movies depict similarly raw and intimate male relationships?