Just as the Stark family is continually on the move, city to city, town to town, never fully settled, the family of Man wanders. Endlessly. According to Ebert, part of the film’s fascination lies in the way that “Like its hero, Rebel Without a Cause desperately wants to say something and doesn’t know what it is.” Perhaps the film struggles this way because what it might say would, in 1955, sound quite ridiculous. At the time of the film’s release, human space flight was still six years away.
The field trip to the planetarium at Griffith Observatory presents not only the outlook of a doomsday scenario, but also a rarified peep at a world – outer space – then unknown, untouched, undiscovered. We might compare the students’ attraction and anxiety to images of deep space with the scene in which Jim and Buzz stare out over the Millertown bluff just before their “chickie-run.” The two boys interpret the precipice as a phenomenological fringe, what they call “the edge” and “the end,” an attitude striking a balance of excitement and fear not unlike that of two astronauts readying themselves for space flight.