Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
Rebel without a Cause (1955)
While the films covered so far have idealized and, in some cases, romanticized father-son relationships, the same cannot be said of Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without A Cause. In this classic film about restless youth, James Dean's protagonist, Jim Stark, looks down upon his pitifully weak father, Frank (played by Jim Backus), who is dominated by Jim's mother, the unquestioned head of the family. In one scene, in which Mrs. Stark (Ann Doran) says that they will have to move once again because of Jim's bad behavior, Jim looks to his father for support, asking him to take his side against his mother. He begs, “Dad, stand up for me. Stand up!” His father, however, cannot. Ray's contempt for Frank Stark––and fathers in general––is apparent, and allegedly there was even a scene at the start of Rebel, cut before the film's release, in which some young hooligans beat up a father. (The only positive portrayal of a paternal relationship is in the “fantasy family,” in which Jim acts as a father figure to the fatherless Plato (Sal Mineo), with Natalie Wood's Judy as the mother.) In I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies, Ray reflected on what may have been the source of his negative feelings towards father figures: “I learned to drive when I was 13 so I could get my father home safe from his nightly rounds of speakeasies and bootleggers. ...At the age of 14 I learned of his mistress. At 15 I made an unsuccessful pass at her. One night at age 16 my father could not be found. I went hunting for his mistress, and found her in a speakeasy across from a brewery my father had built. She led me to a hotel room. He was lying in sweat and puke ...I took him home and nursed him through the night.” After returning from school that day, Ray's father was dead.