“But you must give him some sign, Mr. Trask, some sign that you love him… or he’ll never be a man.”
Cast: James Dean, Raymond Massey and Julie Harris
James Dean plays Caleb Trask, a young, reckless and outright rebellious version of his older brother Aron (Richard Davalos). Competing with Aron for love, affection and acceptance from his father (Raymond Massey), Cal finds solace in women and alcohol, filling in the void that has been created by the continual disappointment and lack of affection that both his brother and father show him.
Not convinced by his father’s claims that his mother died when he was young, Cal pursues his suspicions that lead to a local brothel, where he finds her working as a Madame. He takes comfort in that he actually resembles one of his parents, sharing the traits of being a bit wild, irresponsible and generally bad.
Still wanting to show his father he is worthy of his love and attention though, Cal devises a plan to make money in beans, a market that he believes will boom once World War 1 breaks out. This way he can show he is responsible, worthy of love and affection, and a son that his father can finally be proud of.
East of Eden is a story about the difficulties of conforming to the ideal image society creates, and a rebellion against the constraints that seem to come down on people due to their status in society, in this case the middle class. It is similar to Dean’s role in Rebel Without a Cause, where again he feels he doesn’t belong.
Dean is able to relate so readily with an audience as these sentiments really do effect every young generation. Teenagers often struggle to accept the way they are perceived by others, and try to gain approval for who they are, yet when this is scowled at they begin to change in order to fit in. James Dean, as an icon, carries the message that you shouldn’t change who you are because society says so, as is realised in his films.
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, East of Eden really captures the struggles in America on the brink of War. This was Dean’s first role, and what a fantastic way for him to make his mark in film. It’s simple to see why there was so much buzz and excitement surrounding his career; he had a magic about him that other actors at the time never seemed to quite capture. He shines on screen, from his cheeky smile and charming looks to his ability to portray a real, raw emotion when called for. East of Eden is the film that sprung Dean into the limelight, and was the only film he starred in that was released while he was alive.
Due to its themes that can be related to over many generations, East of Eden is a classic and definite must watch.
Star rating: 8/10
Directed by Elia Kazan.
Running time 115 minutes.