Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Outsiders (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)

In a hostile community in 60's Tulsa, two groups or "clans" reign supreme - the rich, snobby "Socials" and the impoverished, less cultured, "Greasers". One day, two of the Greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny are approached by a group of Socials, who are smarting from the two boys' talking to "their" women. The ensuing rumble means Ponyboy's life is put at risk and in self-defence, Johnny kills one of the socials. The two boys go on the run, but this isn't enough to set off a sequence of catastrophic events.

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The Outsiders features an array of prominent actors in their youth, including Matt Dillion (who also features in Coppola's other outing of the same year, Rumble Fish), Patrick Swayze (god bless, RIP), Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane. Dillion, in particular, marks out the kind of acting that he will embark on for the rest of his career, cool, suave, with a touch of devil-may-care and more than a bit of a swagger like us.

What Susan Eloise Hinton's novel was always keen to show was that the two boys are not bad people at all; they both have a lot of goodness and love in their hearts. But, because of the social group they were born into, they are regarded as scum. In the novel, the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost features, and the recital of it in the film by Ponyboy is utterly stunning. The poem reads:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

And it serves as an apt parable of the life of the two friends. The cinematography in the scene is breath-takingly beautiful; filmed against a red sunset, the two friends opine over the meaning of the poem and dream of what could have been.

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Nice little touches, such as one friend cutting the other's hair and bleaching it in an attempt to look more dangerous, and the two friends cooking for each other. Hilton wrote the novel when she was 16, so, it isn't without it's flaws, but as a look at friendship, loyalty and growing up, it certainly does the job, and more. As many a film has exhibited before, violence only begets violence, and perhaps, in the end, it is always the good that die young.

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