The two empty cars sit idling, side by side. Jim and Buzz each get into their vehicles, close the doors and push their gas pedals to the floor, racing headlong toward the edge of a cliff. The canyon below comes into view--they should each leap from their driver's seats before their cars vault into the abyss, but the first one to bail out loses. At the last possible moment Jim throws open his door and dives out onto the ground. Buzz waits too long and plummets over the edge to certain death.
In Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean's character, Jim, symbolizes a turbulent generation of young people in the 1950s who went to extremes to find their own identities. Teenagers pushed risky behavior to the limit, senselessly putting their lives on the line. Yet this desire to court danger crosses every era, age group and social class. Reckless driving, for example, is common on highways around the world. Mountain climbers cling to sheer rock faces, skiers rush down steep slopes, married people have secret affairs, and partygoers drink to excess.
This article was originally published with the title Lust for Danger.