Rebel Without A Cause

Nicholas Ray, USA, 1955


This scene describes an extremely dangerous adolescent game played out against the background of Los Angeles. The two competitors come side to side in their cars, facing a precipitous ledge over a cliff, in a potentially life threatening car race.  Which, in this case, will take the life of one of the competitors. The aim of the game is to drive the car as fast as possible towards the edge, and then to dive out of the car at the last moment possible before the car falls into the sea. In this duel whoever is the last to leave their car is considered the most courageous and therefore the winner.

The field of play is created by two rows of cars, facing each other, whose lights create a veritable runway of lights against the background of night, starless and bible black. The playful, competitive game is compounded with a combat of emotions by way of the rivalry between Buzz, the leader of the pack, and James Dean as Jim, the new boy in town. Nathalie Wood’s character, Judy, is at once the judge and very reason for this contest.

Buzz’s death brings a swift end to the gameplay for those on the racetrack, while Jim, still experiencing the game like a child, takes a moment to realise what has happened. 

Coming out of the game with such abrupt finality brings the characters face to face with the hardest of realities, death.  As reality dawns on them the spectators flee in their cars, leaving the scene of death, where the police will no doubt soon make an appearance.