James Dean in Rebel without a Cause

Homosexuality in the Background

Rebel without a Cause has been one of the many movies of the past cited to have underlying themes of homosexuality as a driving force behind the overall plot. The ambiguous relationship between Jim and Plato and the insertion of the character Judy placed all three characters in a pseudo love triangle/struggle; relating to one another yet fighting their own adolescent battles. Historically it is known that Hollywood films heavily censored many themes that did not promote hegemony, patriarchy and capitalism therefore abolishing the open presence of homosexuals in film. When the subject was discussed at all homosexuality was just a heavy stream of innuendos and commonly used against itself as a tool to only further promote masculinity and heterosexual love.

Rebel without a Cause, a film released in 1955 centered around character Jim Stark, played by James Dean. On the surface Jim seems to be struggling with his parents but below the surface struggling with more complex themes of sexual identity and masculinity. Momentarily he can not help but to rebel against or at least doubt what it means to become a man. And it is that particular question that we see continuously unfold into a variety of situations that begin to beacon Jim’s masculinity. But as we see in the film Jim has no strong father figure to teach him how to be a man. His farther is emasculated by both his wife and mother who repeatedly push him around. And this very dilemma of growing up without a strong father figure is what ultimately unites Jim and Plato into this common struggle. However Jim does have a father that is present while Plato has no farther at all. And so he becomes doomed in the very fate that Jim escapes. Plato is absolutely hopeless and never does achieve the hetero-normative masculinity needed to survive.

The opening scene is of Jim, Plato and Judy, all three characters are found together for the very first time setting the tone for the entire movie. Plato is cold and Jim approaches him with his jacket, a gesture that is traditionally reserved for women. Women are usually depicted as frail and so they depends on these gestures from men. Immediately we see Plato in this feminized light and Jim as this character who seems to disregard society’s conventions. Plato refuses the jacket at first but as we see later on in the film Plato’s sexuality becomes more apparent and even invites Jim to sleep over.

The relationship between Jim and Judy also is formed at that very police station. He retrieves her compact that she left behind that night. And as Jim clearly develops a sexual attraction to her she becomes a rival to Plato in the struggle to attain Jim’s affection. And near the end when Jim and Judy go off together to be alone the gang isolates Plato and leads him into a series of events that contribute to his demise. Judy or rather Jim and Judy’s relationship is inadvertently to blame for Plato’s death. When Plato is shot by the police the movie’s ending becomes about re-inscribing masculinity and heterosexuality as it prevails over its homosexual counter-part. Although the movie does a lot to glorify heterosexual love as being the survivor in this story, we see Jim introduce Judy as his friend instead of his girlfriend right after Plato’s death. Also a few scenes before that moment, Judy was professing her love for Jim and he is unresponsive when she had stated that all her life she had been waiting to fall in love with someone and finally it had happened with him. It seems that although Plato’s death confirms and celebrates heterosexuality in the movie, Jim seems to lose his title of rebel as he somewhat half-heartily conforms to society’s pre-determined role for him. And in many ways Plato is the true rebel, who is dies as true outsider.