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Friendship is a lifelong experience which is all-important. The nature of friendship, however, is defined by the individuals involved and their circumstances. In an examination of two set texts and two texts of your own choosing, consider this statement.
Friendship’s definition is determined by the participants and the context in which it takes place, and the impacts from this relationship depend upon what can be offered by each individual. This statement will be explored in four texts; two films called Stand By Me directed by Rob Reiner and Men In Black directed by Barry Sonnenfield, and two novels called Walking Naked by Alyssa Brugman and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are many different friendships displayed in these texts – for this reason similarities and differences will be compared in order to reach a conclusion about the nature of friendship.
Stand By Me portrays a friendship between Gordy and Chris, eleven-year-old boys growing up together in a small town in the 1960s. The two boys appear to be very different to each other – Gordy is quiet, sensitive and thoughtful which Chris is the leader of the group and is viewed as a “tough guy”. As the film progresses, Chris gradually reveals his true feelings to Gordy and Gordy sees Chris as the only person he can rely on. They share an intimate and unique bond through mutual trust and loyalty. Chris is always looking out for Gordy and expresses this when he says: “If your parents are too fucked up [to look out for you] then maybe I should.” The characters’ different views on life allow them to offer something important to the friendship. Gordy looks despondently ahead so Chris attempts to convince him of his wonderful opportunities, and when Chris communicates the limited future he believes he has, Gordy gives him hope because he thinks Chris has a chance to establish a good career. In one conversation the contrasting viewpoints are shown when Chris exclaims to Gordy, “It’s arsehole if your friends drag you down!” This friendship impacts on both individuals because they fulfil their predictions for each other.
The circumstances in this film strengthen Gordy and Chris’ relationship as the characters have experiences together on the journey: one such event is the climatic moment in the movie. When the other two boys desert Chris, Gordy is the only one who stands by him – this is shown through medium-shots of the boys as a united force and emphasised in the film’s title and theme song. Unlike the other texts, the friendship in Stand By Me has begun before the events in the story, enabling a more complex relationship to be developed and a greater level of intensity to be attained.
In comparison, the friendship between agents K and J in Men In Black begins with the action in the film so it does not have the same opportunity to reach the intensity of the previously mentioned friendship. K and J’s relationship starts with K in the role of mentor and J as his student. These two characters are very dissimilar: K as an older agent is calm, in control and knowledgeable however, J as the new recruit is enthusiastic, fiery and overconfidently independent. A good example of their opposing characteristics is a scene when an alien escapes in a taxi and J heedlessly gives chase on foot. When he realises there is no hope of catching the alien, K pulls up next to him in a car. K had the foresight and experience to know this was the only realistic option. The different qualities of K and J mean that the friendship has an impact on both parties. K becomes more open and shows his emotional side, and J matures, becoming less arrogant and more reliable.
Although the characters begin only as colleagues, they start to trust each other and form a friendship. J first sees K’s vulnerability when he discovers K misses his wife whom he had to leave for the MiB agency. J comments, “The grumpy guy story is starting to come into focus a little bit here”. The close-ups used for this shot show K’s sad face, revealing his longing to see his wife.
The test in their friendship comes when K deliberately gets himself eaten by an alien to retrieve his swallowed gun and tells J not to allow the alien leave Earth. J risks his life, selflessly following his partner’s instructions to save him. At the end of the film J reveals his reliance on K when the older agent makes known that he is retiring and J exclaims “I cannot do this job by myself!” He has finally shown his weakness and dependency on his friend. Their differences have enabled them to give something valuable to each other, instead of tearing them apart.
The differences between the individuals in Walking Naked have a more tragic outcome. This friendship is based around Megan and Perdita, two teenage girls at the same school but from vastly different backgrounds. Megan has a good home-life and is the leader of the ‘in-group’ at school whereas Perdita is part of an unhappy family and is the “most despised creature in the whole school” (p4) – the girls have completely opposite views and characteristics. Through a chance circumstance in detention, they find themselves developing a challenging and unconventional friendship.
The major obstacle that the pair attempts to overcome (but fails to do) in this relationship is to accept each other’s weaknesses and, despite that, remain friends. In the same way that Megan cannot understand that pride is Perdita’s weakness, Perdita does not accept that Megan is vulnerable to other people’s opinions of her. This flaw is tragically showcased when their friendship is tested and Megan fails. The first person narrative and hindsight is used to show Megan’s feelings – “I betrayed the only friend I ever had, in the most public and unforgivable way” (p154).
The impact that each participant feels as a consequence of the friendship is considerable – after Megan rejects her, Perdita commits suicide, an action which has a devastating and ultimately liberating effect on Megan. At the end of the novel, Megan refers to one of many poems used earlier in the text, stating that she too “learned the enterprise in walking naked” (p171) displaying the effect Perdita’s uncompromising nature had on her.
This friendship is enormously different to either Gordy and Chris’ or K and J’s relationships. Gordy and Chris’ friendship is founded on intimacy and trust, and K and J’s is a result of comradeship and respect. However, Megan and Perdita in Walking Naked have a less ideal relationship in which the circumstances do not allow them to form a powerful and lifelong bond.
Another friendship cut short by unforseen circumstances is the relationship between Nick and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. These characters are also very different to each other, as in the other texts, allowing each of them to bring something distinct to the relationship. Nick is conservative, routine and a realist, while Gatsby is romantic, intriguing and a dreamer – all that Nick is drawn to in his search for adventure. Nick is also attracted to Gatsby’s charisma; he says Gatsby’s smile “understood you just so far as you want to be understood” (p49).
While Nick is deeply involved in and sympathises with Gatsby’s actions throughout the text, Gatsby is preoccupied in his quest for Daisy. The tea at Nick’s cottage is an example of this: Gatsby is using Nick as a route through which he can meet Daisy again however, Nick genuinely connects to Gatsby in his nervous, exposed state as he “waited… at an inconceivable pitch of intensity” (p79).
Nick detects Gatsby’s vulnerabilities, making the friendship an uneven one, somewhat similar to Megan and Perdita. Despite this, Gatsby still confides in Nick and bonds with him on a limited basis. This is portrayed on the last morning the pair spend together after Daisy refused Gatsby – Nick knows Gatsby is struggling with his unstable dream and reveals, “I didn’t want to leave Gatsby” (p144). Nick unknowingly pays tribute to Gatsby when he cries, “they’re a rotten crowd… you’re worth the whole damn bunch” (p152) as a final goodbye.
The ultimate test in this one-sided friendship is after Gatsby dies and Nick is the only person, out of the dozens who received his hospitality, to stay by him. Nick is impacted by this friendship in that his views about the frothy, flirty world of the fifties are altered. Gatsby is also affected by his relationship with Nick in that he finds an unexpected positive in his grey illusionary fog.
From these observations, it can be assumed that the friendship was different in every text and that its definition was dependent on the individuals and circumstance. The fact that Gordy and Chris form the strongest bond suggests that the best form of friendship is nurtured with an innocent, childlike mind. This theory could also show why Megan and Perdita, and Nick and Gatsby are more distant – external worries prevent them developing a deeper friendship – and why K and J’s friendship is based on camaraderie rather than intimacy. These alterations in each context imply that friendships are not always ideal. A person’s characteristics and the situation define the nature of a particular friendship and eventually, influence the impact the friendship has on an individual’s perception of their world and themself.
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