James Dean would've turned 79 today.
The iconic actor left way too early, only showing glimpses of his immense talent in his three legendary performances.
As with all people who die young, the shock of the tragedy creates a conflicting image that sometimes benefits or hurts their legacy.
With someone like Dean we're left wondering if the three weren't just a lucky streak and his next movie would've been mediocre or showed his range was limited (allegedly it would've been none, considering he was going to quit acting and become a director).
For others, the performances are proof that perfection can be achieved by an actor in every movie they make.
Whichever your view of Dean is, the truth is that his films did define a generation, particularly in Rebel Without a Cause where the young actor epitomized the existentialist dramas of adolescence.
He might have been a few years older than Jim Stark-the character he plays-but dressed in jeans, white t-shirts and that look on his face, he encompassed the sort of lost youth he'd be forever associated with.
In one of the film's most stunning scenes, Jim confronts his parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) about a clandestine car race that has mortal consequences.
The scene might not be a monologue per se, but I dare you to notice the two other actors who appear with him (nothing against them, it's just Dean's power that overcomes them).
It was a matter of honor.
They called me chicken.
I had to go...
If I didn't I'd never be able to face those kids again
Notice how he delivers the lines without a single sign of thespian self-consciousness. Whatever guilt is revealed through his words comes from his fear of having to own up such grave actions before he's due.
I don't wanna drag you into this but I can't help it he laments, I don't see how I can get out of that by pretending it didn't happen.
His parents watch in horror as they remember things they've endured in the past and in the scene's key moment Jim turns the tables on them.
Dad you told me, you said you want me to tell the truth, didn't you say that?
You can't turn it off.
Watching this scene again reminded me of how much this movie marked every teenage angst film to come. This last part especially made me recall a scene in An Education where Carey Mulligan's character confronts Emma Thompson's headmistress and asks her what's the purpose of life "It's not enough to educate us anymore, you've got to tell us why you're doing it" she says.
The headmistress looks in awe, thrown completely off base by the remark. Out of convention she might be forced to say "you'll learn when you're older kid" but the look in her face reveals she's still as lost as any teenager.
Likewise James Dean's performance might not contain the answers to all this but it's a heartbreaking, worthy reminder that someone else might want to know the point of it all one day.