Rumble Fish 1983 movie

Rumble Fish – A sad and wonderful 80s fairy tale

Once upon a time, a troop of actors hungry for success and Francis Ford Coppola at the height of his directing career all found together to realize Rumble Fish, a sensational and largely forgotten 1983 cult movie.

Although with a different plot and characters, this old-fashioned fable recounts the adventures of young Rusty, a suburban bully who kills the boredom of useless days among his friends and beautiful girlfriend, Patty.

At first, he appears to us as a brave and friendly wannabe street knight who defends his honor from challengers seeking to beat him in a duel, as we see in the initial fist-and-knife fight.

As we delve deeper into his life, we uncover a painful truth that the swagger he displays is merely a facade, a coping mechanism to endure the harsh reality of an impoverished existence with no prospects.

Indeed, his father drifted into alcohol since his mother abandoned them, while his brother, once a respected gang leader, is now a wandering aimless drifter.

With each setback, Rusty’s world crumbles a little more. The school kicks him out, the last place that offers him some structure, and the ultimate blow- his beloved Patty, the one bright spot in his life- leaves him for his friend Smokey.

At the same time, his brother returns from California, where he went to search for their mother, who sadly wants no part of his old family; today, he looks emptier than ever in soul with no aspirations and living each day without importance.

Amidst the bleakness of a city where every individual is an isolated entity, consumed by their concerns, we wonder if Rusty must meet the same fate or if he has the power to rewrite his own story.

The Constant Quest for Freedom

Rumble Fish is a 1983 boyhood adventure that initially evokes reminiscences of movies like The Warriors but quickly escalates into a dark journey of introspection.

Initially perceived as free, the characters are exposed as prisoners of an existence from which there seems to be no escape.

Stephen H. Burum‘s black-and-white cinematography captures the style of a timeless classic, a visual narrative that could unfold in a setting even two hundred years earlier, maintaining its dramatic effectiveness and drawing the audience into the story.

Those characters’ ambiguities find a parallel in Stewart Copeland‘s music, swinging between almost joyous lightness and sudden somber tones that enhance the merciless, pitiless way of looking at each character without justifying or condemning the aimless conduct in their lives.

For example, Diana Scarwid, portraying Mickey Rourke‘s ex-girlfriend, emerges as a fascinating yet lost character in her drug addiction, arousing horror and pity for viewers through her speeches devoid of logic and hope.

The screenplay, a collaboration between S. E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola, tenaciously advances the narrative, painting a micro world of past and future America.

Has it really changed that much today? The search for purpose in life and economic or social security is still a burning desire, hardly to be fulfilled despite whatever the promises of all political fringe may be.

These young folks walk on the edge of failure, accepting a role seemingly cast for them, lacking a voice and a criticism of adults: what are we actually doing to help them?

Such deep analysis dares us to rebel against the human condition and be courageous even when faced with challenges we cannot overcome, always trying to find meaning and true freedom in our lives.

The American Flame of Rusty and His Heroes

After discussing Coppola’s and his fantastic technical crew’s great work on this movie, let’s take a closer look at the cast of Rumble Fish, a perfect group that includes some of the best young actors, each with the potential to become stars in 1983 and beyond.

Above them all, I want to mention the trio that makes up the primary family unit of this story, starting with the main character, Matt Dillon.

An ordinary boy, Matt Dillon’s character is not a mere stereotype of goodness or evil. Instead, we witness his fragile humanity unfold minute by minute, especially when his brother, played by a sumptuous Mickey Rourke, enters the picture.

Rusty idolizes him above all else, to such an extent that he never even calls him by name but (like everyone else) calls him “The Motorcycle Boy”; but even this shows him to be a man with no real reason to live anymore, merely surviving day after day on petty gimmicks.

Equally nameless is Dennis Hopper as the father of these two brothers, another character who has never recovered from a failed marriage, profoundly scarring the lives of his children.

Again, We must remember the surreal beauty of the very young Diane Lane, with Rusty idealizing her and elevating her to the role of a goddess he constantly dreams about and sees everywhere throughout the day.

No less promising are the supporting actors of Rusty’s gang, such as the intelligent and shy Vincent Spano, the cunning and traitor Nicolas Cage, the combative Chris Penn, and the likable and elegant Laurence Fishburne, a messenger of battles always dressed in white.

Together with bartender/philosopher Tom Waits and relentless cop William Smith, we have a very complex and layered ecosystem of street animals, each of whom is a parody/metaphor of our society.

All this (and more) make the whole of this movie a great classic that we must remember, trying to keep alive the flame of the true American soul, which Coppola encapsulates perfectly in the last image of Rusty riding his motorcycle to the ocean: a guy who has lost everything and has no more causes to fight for but perhaps has at least found his freedom and personal identity. At least, that is how I will always want to see the ending of this beautiful, sad, and dramatic ancient and modern story.

Rumble Fish 1983 movie
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