Teen Angst: J. D. Salinger’s Imprint on Film

March 11, 2010

Teenagers are adept at recognizing all that is wrong with the world, all the unfairness, the petty cruelties, the inhumanity of adults and their institutions. However, teenagers are often wanting in the ability to clearly express their disdain and disapproval. Lacking both the language to confront these issues and the power to change them, they resort to rebellious actions. These themes have been captured beautifully in film, and Filmmakers will be showcasing three such films in its series: Teen Angst: J. D. Salinger’s Imprint on Film. These movies explore the area in which teenagers, with all the passion and righteousness of youth, interact with a cold and settled society.

The first of the films will be the iconic Rebel Without a Cause. In my opinion, this film is inaccurately named. James Dean does indeed have a cause; his goal is to live honorably in a society that does not value honor. As the new kid in town, he struggles to understand the hegemony he has been placed into. Realizing that the system is flawed, he becomes a rebel, not because he smokes or cuts class, but rather because he simply doesn’t believe the narrative that society has imposed on everyone in the town.

rebel without a cause poster

The second film in the series is The Last Picture Show, which takes place in a small Texas town in the 1950’s. It’s the sort of place where life ends after high school, and adulthood is a long series of disappointments and compromises. To escape the confines of their social classes, their relationships, and their boredom, teenagers and adults alike attempt to connect to one another sexually, but there is always a sense of sadness and distance in these encounters. The lesson to be learned from this film is that sexuality is only a weapon if you wield it right.

The last picture show poster

The final film, quite different from the other two in its story, message, and aesthetic is A Clockwork Orange. This movie follows the violent, cruel, and meaningless antics of a young man, Alex, in a disturbing future Britain. Alex is apprehended and forcefully reprogrammed to be less violent. Pavlovian methods of association are used to cause him distress and discomfort when he thinks about violence. The film explores the angst teenagers feel when being forced to buy into a banal system. Youth wants to remain righteous, wants to hold onto its emotional clarity and strength. It does not want to subside into adulthood. But adulthood has a way of imposing its harsh reality on youth.

A clockwork orange poster

Go see these films on March 14th, 21st, and 28th at the Regent Square Theater and show your solidarity with the teenager you used to be.


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