I was 12 the first time I saw Stand By Me, and I watched it on VHS with my best friend. I remember thinking that those boys “got it.” They understood life, and let’s face it: River Phoenix was a hottie. The story was dramatic, angsty and heartwarming. And who could forget the barf-o-rama scene? It was ratings gold for the future generation named X.
Flash-forward 30 years (has it been that long?!) to a few weeks ago when I watched the movie again with my own son. I spent the entire film wearing a “What the hell?!” look on my face. All I could think was, where in all of creation are the parents of those kids?
Now, I’ll give Gordies’s parents a hall pass because they were so wracked by grief over losing Denny that they couldn’t possibly be expected to parent beyond providing meals. And, okay, Chris and Teddy’s dads were Crazy and Crazier. But, come on, Vern seemed like he came from a mostly adjusted home. At the very least, where was Mrs. Tessio when Vern went running out the door, and why didn’t she at least pack the boys some sandwiches?
Beyond the boys and their parents, where were the grown-ups in general in that town? The shopkeepers? The general public? In every scene in that movie, save for some flashbacks and one very angry junkyard owner, the entire town was seemingly being run Lord of the Flies style with Ace Merrill as the sheriff.
Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?
A Two-Day Overnight Trip in the Woods With $0.09 for Food
In the age of helicopter parenting and over-involved parents, four 12-year-old boys out in the woods with less than a quarter nowadays would not only involve CPS, it would also be a four-part series on Dateline. Did no one in Castle Rock see these four boys, their backpacks, and their resolve? Ray Brower is missing, presumed dead, and seemingly none of the parents care that their kids aren’t tucked safe in their beds. I’m surprised at you, Mr. and Mrs. Tessio.
Two Words: Mailbox Baseball
When I watched this scene as a preteen, what with Ace’s rippling biceps and his badassery and all, I remember feeling a tiny bit gratified by his nonchalance with regards to rules. When he played chicken with that truck? Well, let’s just say that was my first encounter with hormones being triggered by a badass with a cigarette. But now, as a taxpaying citizen who knows just how much a mailbox will set me back at Home Depot? Yeah, Ace, we’ve got a problem here. Watching now, I just feel bad for Castle Rock’s mailman and all the citizens who routinely never received their Sears catalogs. Someone needed to call the cops on those hooligans.
Every other scene in Stand By Me has some testosterone-ridden boy beating up another. The town is literally held hostage by a group of teen hooligans hell-bent on terrorizing the tweens of Castle Rock. When Ace plows Chris to the ground, not one single adult steps in to save Chris’s chiseled cheekbones. It’s like the adults of Castle Rock are locked in the basement of the church while Ace and his cronies practice vigilante justice.
Razor Tattoos, Leeches and Guns, Oh My
Yet another disturbing realization that my adult self had during Stand By Me is that these kids all have a death wish. All of them. Ace and his buddies risked tetanus and flesh-eating bacteria by carving tattoos into their arms with unsterilized razors. Gordie and company almost bled to death from leeches. Ace is walking around with a switchblade at his fingertips, and I’m pretty sure he has cancer now from all that smoking. And don’t get me started on Gordie and the gun. I mean, I’m all for a bully getting his comeuppance in the last scene of a movie, but seriously, Adults of Castle Rock, you failed this generation of children in your town. We won’t even talk about Chopper.
When I watched Stand By Me as a 12-year-old, I wondered if I’d ever have a crazy story to tell when I got older. I wondered if my best friend and I would lose touch like Gordie and Chris. Would I ever be badass enough to go on a clandestine trip that I’d hide from my parents? Mostly, I wished I could date Will Wheaton.
And now that I have the crazy memories of college, a trip or two my parents still don’t know about, and I’m still in touch with that friend from fifth grade, I long for the times when I could watch a movie through the eyes of a wistful teen rather than a parent in charge of making the rules. I also still wish I could date Wil Wheaton.
But mostly, I’m realizing that I haven’t had friends like I did when I was 12.
Jesus, does anybody? (See what I did there?)