Youth are fools in their prime,
Adept at wasting time.
‘Tis not till age upsets,
They find time for regrets.
If grief will have its day
With innocence’ decay,
May fools find green and gold
Before they grow too old.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Francis Ford Coppola took a break from epics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now with his far smaller and more personal adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. This tragic tale of rival gangs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a prime example of a film that I can recognize as good without actually enjoying it. Gang movies have never been my cup of tea; I can appreciate parts of them, like the music in West Side Story, but it’s the kind of youth lifestyle I just can’t relate to in the slightest.
The best thing going for The Outsiders is the cast, a veritable who’s who of ‘80s rising stars. As friends Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny Cade, C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio are two likable kids, Greasers who follow Dallas (Matt Dillon) around as the older boy hits on the prettiest girl at the drive-in (Diane Lane). Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe join in too as Ponyboy’s elder brothers, while Emilio Estevez and even a snaggletoothed Tom Cruise show up for a few scenes. Howell, Macchio, and Dillon are the only ones to stand out, but seeing all these stars-to-be together was the film’s main pleasure.
After a lethal run-in with members of the well-to-do rival gang called the Socs (pronounced “Soashes”), Ponyboy and Johnny must hide out in an old abandoned church until tensions die down. Despite the relative lack of activity, it is this waiting that forms the high point of the film. The boys bond and read Gone with the Wind, and in a scene I included in my top twelve list of poems in movies, Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” applying its meaning to his own wish for permanence as the sunset recalls similarly staged scenes in Gone with the Wind. That grand scene is sadly fleeting as the boys must soon deal with sacrifice and gang pressures.
The rivalry between the Greasers and Socs is comparable to any gang rivalry, hinging on class warfare and revenge, but it just seems so pointless. I’m an easy-going, let’s-all-get-along kind of guy who just can’t understand the cyclical vengeance of gangs. I know that most conflicts are not easily resolved, but the small-scale scuffles on display here are the product of attitude and peer pressure and “getting even.” That’s what makes Ponyboy and Johnny so sympathetic; they’re tired of all the strife too, and though some descriptions I’ve read imply the gangs themselves are “the outsiders” of society, it’s really the two friends who stand apart from the petty rivalries into which they were more or less born and aspire to something more, something selfless.
There are glimmers of hope in The Outsiders, from the poem recitation to a scene of understanding between Ponyboy and one of the Socs, but the sad gang mentality remains. While one tragedy is given the respect it’s due, another seems like a total waste that could have been better reproved. I felt for Ponyboy and Johnny, but everyone else seemed to bring friction and violence on themselves, which is hardly something I enjoy watching.
Best line: (Johnny) “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2016 S. G. Liput
399 Followers and Counting