Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book to Movie: Thoughts on "Stand by Me" (1986) and the original short story "The Body" by Stephen King

I know what you're thinking. What in the world is she doing reading a Stephen King story? Well, push your eyeballs back in your head and hear me out before you run shrieking from my blog. I have a very . . . liberal approach to literature. I have enjoyed many a story than most Christians make the sign of the cross over. That's just me, it's who I am, and while I'm not swayed by the stories, I do find them an intriguing psychological look at humanity. Know your enemy, so they say, not that I view Stephen King as my enemy, although I'm sure of my readers must disagree on that point.

No, what I'm saying is that I first encountered The Body not through King, but through the film Stand by Me that they based off his short story. I didn't even realize it was one of Stephen King's stories until I reached the end and did some online research. I had no clue. What you're probably wondering now is, what in the world is this story about other than a body? It's literally a coming-of-age story for 4 twelve-year-old boys in the 1960s who go on a trek over Labor Day Weekend to see a dead body. And not just any dead body, but the body of a kid their own age. It's the story of Gordy, Chris, Vern, and Teddy in the prime of their stupendously idiotic youth as they try to figure out who the heck they're becoming when their futures are pretty much already decided for them.

Left to Right: Gordy (Wil Wheaton), Vern (Jerry O'Connell),
Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Chris (River Phoenix

Chris is going to follow in the footsteps of all the male Chambers's before him, leading a life of crime and being the proverbial blight on society. Vern will remain an idiot, probably pumping gas for the rest of his life, and Teddy, well, Teddy will be lucky if he lives to be 20 what with his reckless behavior, always mouthing off to adults twice his size. As for Gordy, he could be a nobody, or he could listen to Chris,his best friend, and actually pursue writing as a career. So why is this oddball assortment of friends heading out to see a dead body?

Search me.

I'm still not sure, other than it was the impetuous hunger of youth to try something new, see something different, be someone different, instead of the same old, same old. They wanted an adventure that summer, right before the new school year, and this poor dead kid provides the perfect opportunity for something outrageously different. As to how they even know about the body, Vern overheard his older brother and his buddy discussing it in harried whispers one day because they'd stumbled across it while fishing.

You're probably wondering what I find remotely redeeming in this story. Well, I admit that I watched the movie because of the actors. Even though it was rated R and I knew going in that I would be listening to 12-year-old kiddos swearing like sailors. Because this movie has Kiefer Sutherland, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, John Cusack, and Wil Wheaton in at, all actors that I happen to love, River especially. So I went in for purely fickle purposes in the beginning.

But despite the foul language, I was hooked within 20 minutes. These are kids who are just beginning to discover their identities. The choices they make at this point in their life is going to affect the men they become. You can already see that the friendships between these four boys are diverging. Gordy is loaded with potential, and so is Chris despite all the claims of the townsfolk to the contrary because of his family. But Teddy and Vern? They are content with who they are, with where they are, with their lives, and they have no desire, no ability to dream big, not like Chris forces Gordy to do, and Gordy reciprocates.

If these kids hadn't gone on their adventure, I don't know what would have come about for Gordy and Chris. Would Chris have met the expectations of others and become just another criminal? Would Gordy have ended up in some low-paying teacher's job somewhere? I don't know, but I do know that the conversations these boys have during their 3 days trek across Oregon to see a dead body affects them. I admit that there were moments when it felt like Chris and Gordy might have been developing "feelings" for one another, but I don't know if that's just because they cried together or if it was the director's intentions to give people a suspicious inkling. I have no idea, but I do know it's a lot less emotional between them in the book than in the movie. Chris is less touchy-feely and protective of Gordy in the book because Gordy is tougher than he is in the movie. Their characters were changed up a bit and I don't know what the motivations were behind the alterations.

As for the book, I listened to the audio version, and found to my horror that there was even more language in The Body than had been in Stand by Me. Oh, the movie kept some of the stuff, including some of the fairly bad stuff that I hated coming out of Wil Wheaton's mouth, but the book was far, far worse. It also, for a short story, really dragged in places. There were moments, especially the moment of realization that the kid they'd come to see was actually, positively dead, went on for far too long. I don't know if King was waxing melodramatic or what, but some of the scenes and thoughts felt like overkill. I also could have done without the one story of Gordy's that they don't have in the movie that he wrote as a teenager. It involves a sex scene and added literally nothing to the plot so it felt like a waste of space or just an excuse to get sex down on paper.

So, no, I won't recommend either King's The Body or Stand by Me to anyone. I will say that Stand by Me is one of the finest film adaptations of a book that I've ever seen. It managed to take a meandering short story and turn it into a concise movie that went from Point A to Point B without too much trouble. And it remained faithful to the original writer. Should you choose to read the book or watch the movie, you do so at your own risk.

All I know is that for me, the plight of these 4 boys spoke to me. I don't know how authentic the story is or to what extent little kids would swear in the 1960s. I have no idea. All I know is that the story pulled at my heartstrings. I'm a sucker for misunderstood kids, and you don't get more misunderstood than Chris, played by my beloved River Phoenix. All he needed was one adult in his life to care about him. Just one, someone who wasn't afraid of his bad habits or his perverse family, but who would see his potential and support him. This isn't a happy-go-lucky kind of story. And you find out at the end what happens to all four of the kids, although it is changed up a bit in the movie from the book. You also don't get a scene with Kiefer Sutherland beating up on Wil Wheaton like in the book, but that was a bit of a blessing. Kiefer's the villain, in case you didn't suspect that already.

On my personal rating scale, I give King's The Body 3 stars and Stand by Me 5 stars. Sometimes life isn't pretty. Sin is prevalent everywhere we turn, and if we pretend it doesn't exist, aren't we giving it more power? I'd much rather try to help and encourage the love the Chris's, Teddy's, and Vern's of the world before it's too late. When they're 12, there's still hope, and that's what I see in this story, two kids giving each other hope. It may not have a happy ending, but it certainly makes you think.

If you get a chance, watch this official music video for the theme song of the film, sung by Ben E. King.


  1. Wait... John Cusack is in that? Now I'll just have to see it some day.

    I have only read two books by Stephen King because I really just don't deal well with horror. So I've read "Salem's Lot" because it was about vampires and vampires don't scare me, and once was very enough. But I love his book "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft." I think I've read it three times. Very moving and inspirational.

    1. Uhmmm, if you can call 5 minutes of screen time being in the movie, then yes, John Cusack is in it. He plays Gordy's dead brother in flash backs. I admit that when I was typing out the names, I almost forgot him because he has so few scenes. If you do watch it, prepare for a lot of language coming from 12-year-olds.

      I like King's stories as Richard Bachman so much better. I listened to the audiobook for The Running Man last week. It's utterly fascinating for people who like dystopian worlds. And now I'm halfway through The Long Walk which I may or may not finish. It's a little depressing for the month of December.

      But I've heard good things about King's book on writing, so I might track that down one of these days. One of my friends is an editor/proof reader and she found it fascinating too. :)

    2. Hee, five minutes, eh? Probably why I wasn't aware he was in it. Still, aww, he was such a young cutie back then! Right about the same time as The Journey of Natty Gann, which I love.

      Anyway, On Writing is amazing. The first part is his memoir of how he became a writer, what his process is like, and also how his writing was impacted by his struggles with addiction and by his accident and recovery. I read it because a good friend recommended it and said I could just read the second part if I wanted, because it's all concrete writing advice. I started there, fell in love with his voice, and went back and read from the beginning. Then bought my own copy. Now a lot of the advice is a little bit, "Yeah, I know that," but it's still a nifty refresher, especially when I'm editing. I've been thinking of rereading it lately, actually.

    3. Have you ever liked something and then discovered that the writer has serious issues and stopped liking it? That's me. So I don't think I can read anymore of his work, either on writing or his fiction. It's sad really, because he is so talented, but too much of what he's written has a serious tinge of evil that I don't want to give it any more of my time. But if I ever feel differently, I will give his book on writing a try. :)

    4. Yes, that's happened a few times, and is always sad. I think in this case, I've always kind of figured anyone who has written that many horror stories has to have some serious issues. But I know that no matter how hard I try to separate creator from creation, there have been times when I learned something about a writer (or actor or filmmaker) that makes me unable to enjoy their work anymore. Always sad.


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