Rumble Fish (1983)

Dennis Hopper (Father): ‘No, your mother…is not crazy. And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… With the ability to do anything that he wants to do and… finding nothing that he wants to do. I mean nothing’.

The above quote from Rusty James (Matt Dillion) father about his brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).

Motorcycle Boy: ‘Even the most primitive society has an innate respect for the insane’

Rumble Fish is Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E Hinton’s novel about two brothers and their desire to break out of their environment. Rusty James is a young and simple boy who yearns for the past of gang wars and of times when his brother The Motorcycle Boy ran things, he has no real direction in his life and his brothers shadow hangs over him. The problem for him is his brother has left town and there has been a treaty of no gang fights.

He plans to shake up things and picks a fight with Biff, however things don’t according to plan and he gets hurt, but, his brother turns up to save him. The arrival of his brother attracts the attention of the local police force who start to monitor the Motorcycle Boy. Rusty is happy to see his brother and starts thinking things are going to be the same again and he can take over from his brother, but his brother is not the same as he was, he is more withdrawn and distance than ever before.

They spend the next few days getting back time lost and Rusty learns more about his brothers trip to California, Rusty asks him what it was like he replies:

The Motorcycle Boy: ‘California is like a beautiful, wild… beautiful, wild girl on heroin… who’s high as a kite, thinking she’s on the top of the world, not knowing she’s dying even if you show her the marks’

It is lines like this that make the Motorcycle Boy so intriguing and fascinating to watch, Mickey Rourke is brilliant at delivering them, you can’t help wonder if he hadn’t entered boxing he could have had a much more meatier roles.

The brothers are reunited with their father, an alcoholic lawyer who doesn’t have a job and spends most his time in bars wasting away his welfare cheques, the loss of his wife being a massive factor in this behaviour. Rusty learns his mother is alive and living in California, he feels let down that his brother and father did not tell him this. The restlessness in both brothers leads to events that sets them on a course that they will never forget.

Stewart Copeland drummer of the Police provides the music and the song ‘Don’t box me in’ is a favourite of mine. The film is shot in black and white and the cinematography is standout, there is one scene which will stay with you, it involves the rumble fish which appear in colour which the Motorcycle Boy finds fascinating as he is colour blind. The time lapse shots are a amazing to see and are perfectly balanced with the chimes and of course the drumming provided by Copeland. The cast is also easy on the eye – even Tom Waits.

I first saw Rumble Fish about 15 years ago (yep showing my age here) and wondered what was that? Why am I being recommended this film? What is this telling me? (coincidentally this was the same time my father banned me from riding his motorcycle and any motorcycle period) But the more times I have revisited this the more I have understood it to be a simple story told in a stylistic and overreaching way. My summary is essentially we are all lost in our youth and yearning for something to happen or save us or guide us, normally that the guidance comes from a peer we respect or idolise such as a parent or an older sibling. But what happens when they too are lost? Well I think the only way to combat this is through self discovery which can take some time to achieve, while some get there, others never do, so the search is the ultimate point of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend, don’t expect it to be just an art film for teenagers, there is depth if you look for it.

Rating 4/5

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