How the film “Stand by Me” shows children are stronger than we think
Do some children cope better with being overlooked by their parents than others? I found myself wondering that after watching Rob Reiner’s film Stand by Me.
We all know that being overlooked or treated as less important than everyone else damages a child’s emotional development. This is taken as a given in fiction and drama, whether it is the stuttering, fatherless protagonist of my young-adult thriller Deadfall, Ty Monterey, or the oversensitive child writer Gordie Lachance, hero of Stand by Me. They are both underdogs.
The film (the 1986 adaption of Stephen King’s novella The Body) tells the story of four boys aged around thirteen: Gordie Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio. They set off on a trek through the Oregon countryside to see the body of a boy their own age killed by a train. It sounds gruesome, but it isn’t. It is a rites-of-passage story, focussing on character and relationships, rather than action or horror, although Gordie does become obsessed with seeing the body. Indeed, the aforementioned body is only seen once and then for less than five seconds.
In the course of this trip, we learn that Gordie’s elder brother was their parents’ favourite, especially their father, who hardly notices his younger son – even more since the brother died in a recent car accident.
Whilst away, Gordie has a nightmare in which he and his parents are at his brother’s funeral and his father says, “It should have been you, Gordon.” This takes us to the heart of the story.
Gordie wakes with a start and is comforted by Chris (his best friend). Gordie blurts out his pain in two incisive sentences: “I’m no good. My dad hates me.” Looked at from a psychological standpoint, I think we can say that Gordie’s obsession with seeing the body is probably driven by his need for his dead brother (who was perhaps the only person who truly noticed Gordie and gave him the attention he needed). In a similar way, in Deadfall, Ty’s need for his absent father is, at least in part, what drives him to take on the terrorists.
This leads us back to the fact that both Gordie and Ty are, in their different ways and to varying degrees, underdogs. Both are vulnerable pubescent boys with no significant male role-model. Both are forced to mature and learn valuable lessons in the midst of their anguish. But both came through it, though not unscathed.
So, to answer the question posed at the start, yes some children do cope better with emotional neglect than others. That’s something to be grateful for.