As an older brother myself I’m naturally pulled into tales about brotherhood. More than any other subject matter, brotherhood really hits at my heart and gets me emotionally invested in a film. Obviously when people think brothers they think blood relation, but just as impactful are movies about de facto brothers. Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t appear to favor one over the other, as The Outsiders is a film about both.
The film centers around the Greasers, a band of boys from broken homes who look at each other as brothers, even though only three of them are actually related by blood. With an ensemble cast of Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estivez, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell, there’s not an unrecognizable face in the bunch. Throughout the film the boys stand by one another, fight for each other (literally), keep each others spirits up, and save each other’s lives in more ways than one.
The story comes from the perspective of Ponyboy Curtis (and that’s not a nickname; his brother’s name is Sodapop), the youngest member of the Greasers at 14, who’s writing about a personal experience to boost his grade. The viewer follows Ponyboy and shows his experience living with his two older brothers (who work to put him through school since their parents died), as well as his time palling around with the rest of the gang, especially the second youngest member: Johnny. The crux of the story comes when Johnny stabs and kills a member of the rival gang, The Socs, saving the life of Ponyboy. With the help of the gang’s biggest delinquent Dallas, the two boys hop a train, run away, and lay low for a week.
While the boys are hiding out the moral of the story becomes abundantly clear. Ponyboy, by far the most well read and studious of the gang, recites to Johnny Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” while watching a golden sunrise:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
There’s a reason the story revolves around Ponyboy; he is the youngest and least jaded of the boys. He has not had to drop out of school to support a family like his brothers; he has not been sent to jail like Dallas; he hasn’t even scarred from a fight like Johnny. In essence Ponyboy is still gold, still able to see the good in the world and fall in love with the sunrise. The goldenness of his characters is emphasized in this scene by the sky in the background, as well as the golden sky during the opening and closing of the film
In total contrast to the scene shown above is the rumble scene between the Greasers and the Socs. Right before the battle starts, Coppola pans the camera across the faces of the Greasers, all half drenched in black. Life has taken half the good out of these boys; they are no longer gold. A statement has been made: with age comes cynicism. Ponyboy learns the hard way that life isn’t just golden sunrises, and opts to write his school report on the adventure he’s just been through. Ironically enough, when he doesn’t know what he’s going to write about he jokingly suggests “my first trip to the zoo,” not knowing that’s exactly what he’ll be writing about. But hopefully all hope is not lost for Pony after it all comes to an end, maybe he can, as Johnny tells him to, “stay gold.”