James Dean’s Cal in East of Eden is the second most lazily misrepresented movie characters, number one being Nurse Ratched.
Taking their cue (for some reason) from other (period) characters, Cal is described by derivative film writers as “bad” or a rebel. Cal may not be very “nice” or respectable, but “bad” goes way too far.
He tries to please his father; he rescues an innocent German neighbor from lynching during the run up to the Great War; and in other ways attempts (and often fails) to do what he thinks is right. So unless failing to succeed at that is somehow “bad,” I don’t get it.
So he wanders around aimlessly and kicks at rocks on the road. Wow, that’s “bad”! He’s obsessed with his estranged mother, who is now the madam of the nearby brothel. Hey, ya think? He and his brother are rivals? Unheard of!
You’d think “bad” would describe a movie’s villain, and if this film has one, it is Cal’s father, especially if we judge him in terms of post-modern ideals of “fatherhood.” And even then, “villain” is to strong a word — for that very reason.
This is one of those movies where you get the feeling you aren’t watching the same film as 99% of the population has been mindlessly yapping about for forty years.