Rumble Fish

Time, how one spends one’s time in life, self-actualization, death. Motorcycle Boy is seemingly trapped in being a legend, a victim of greatness and fame. He doesn’t even have a name. He’s Motorcycle Boy. Like Elvis or Marilyn or whoever. And doomed to a similar fate. He goes to California but never makes it to the ocean. “California got in the way”. “California” being an allusion to Hollywood, stardom, fame, and everything that comes with it. Never makes it to the ocean but he gets his picture in a magazine, hair slicked back leaning against his motorcycle. Once again, Motorcycle Boy becomes a brand, becomes an object, a representation. But not real. Rusty James is very different. He has no nickname. He’s Rusty James. He wants to be Motorcycle Boy. But, hard as he tries, he’ll never be his older brother. Rusty James will never, so to speak, be in a magazine. But he does make it to the ocean, he is the final image of the film. A really beautiful image. Like Motorcycle Boy in the magazine, Rusty James is captured on his motorcycle. Except it’s not a magazine. Rusty James is real. The world doesn’t see Rusty James. Only we do, the few people sitting in the movie theater. And, even then, the way it’s shot, it’s not even 100% clear that this is Rusty James. (But it is Rusty James.) Motorcycle Boy’s journey is a public journey, a journey steered and controlled by stories, myths, fame, not by Motorcycle Boy (or whatever his real name is). Rusty James’ journey is a private, personal journey, inspired by his older brother and the legend of his older brother, but, in the end, steered by Rusty James, controlled by Rusty James. Rusty James drops three Rumble Fish into the river. They don’t kill each other which is good and important. But their living in their fish tanks has undeniably traumatized them. All three fishes are freed into the river but this doesn’t mean they all live. For me, these three fish are the three men in Rusty James’ family. One dies an alcoholic death (one would assume), one is killed by a cop while committing a crime (though a seemingly noble crime), and the third, Rusty James, if even for a split second, self-actualizes and finds a life, his life, a real life, in the ocean. Like Tony Manero at the end of Saturday Night Fever, we don’t know what happens to Rusty James, to his life, but there clearly seems to be a flicker of self-awareness so we can’t help but think, at least there’s a hope, that Rusty James will live, if not a better life, *his* life. Like Patty said, Rusty James isn’t “word smart”. But maybe he’s emotionally smart. Much like this film. On paper, this isn’t a “great film”. But in terms of emotional resonance, it’s one of the greatest. Rusty James will never be Motorcycle Boy. He just isn’t word smart enough. But, because of how much he feels, how painfully vulnerable he is, he can be even greater. Rusty James and Rumble Fish. They’ll never be famous, never be legends, and this is precisely why we love them. The moral of the story is, F*@k Marvel Films.

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