The cast of "Stand By Me," from left to right, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Mission Viejo High School

Brownsville, Oregon becomes Castle Rock in celebration of ‘Stand By Me’ day

There’s something magical that tends to happen when you take a seat in a movie theater, with the lights going blank and the real world melting away around you. Film has always been that way for me, allowing me to imagine different dimensions to our already versatile lives. I always seem to find that there is still so much depth out there, and we have only ventured so far as the shallow end.

One film that has found itself weighing on my mind everyday since I first saw it is “Stand By Me,” an adaptation based on a short story by Stephen King. The storyline centers on four young boys in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon, who spend their last true summer together on a journey to find the dead body of a boy their age.

The experiences given to the characters — played by Wil Wheaton as Gordie, River Phoenix as Chris, Corey Feldman as Teddy, and Jerry O’Connell as Vern — are perfectly real and nostalgic of the simplicity of life, which is one of the biggest factors that draws the audience to love the boys and their adventure.

Directed by Rob Reiner (known also for “The Princess Bride” and “Misery”), “Stand By Me” has become one of the most extraordinary coming-of-age movies of the 1980s, standing out amongst a huge variety of others that were made during the same decade. Despite the dizzying amount of coming-of-age films thrown at audiences during the “John Hughes era,” Stephen King lists the film at the top of his list of favorite movie adaptations of his books, saying that “it had the emotional gradient of the story… it went viral.”

In fact, the film went so viral that annual “Stand By Me” day has been established and has become a proud part of small-town history in Brownsville, Oregon where much of the film was recorded 33 years ago. For tourists and residents alike, July 23 marks annual “Stand By Me” day and Brownsville keeps Castle Rock alive as the place where it all happened.

Major hints towards the film occur annually — a pie-eating competition, alluding to the iconic scene in which a revenge scheme comes in the disguise of an odd turn of events at a pie-eating contest. Movie showings and classic car drive-ins also occur in Brownsville every July 23 to act as tributes to the movie and the importance it holds in town history.

Around town, hourly walking tours take place, bringing participants around to landmarks like the green bridge where the boys re-enter the town at the end of the movie and even a penny cemented into the street where Vern finds one at the end of the film. I can only imagine that just walking through the town, the nostalgia settles heavily in the air knowing that this is where “Stand By Me”’s beloved movie moments took place.

The emotions of fans visiting the fictional, but nevertheless cherished, town of Castle Rock are the epitome of a dream come true. From as far as New Zealand and Japan, people come to visit the town and enjoy it’s history. Reportedly, one fan even left a jar of pennies under the tree where the treehouse from the movie was built as a salute to the character, Vern.

For fans of all ages and all connections to the movie, their own return to the setting makes every aspect more personal. Those who remember seeing the film in their childhood are able to relate to the authenticity of the story. Easy to say, to be where the story unfolded is absolutely magical.

The film strikes so close to the heart, bringing back multitudes of memories for every different person in connection to it, making the feelings hard to put into words. But that’s okay, because we all have the images of the four boys — marching through the grass fields, fleeing from the train, singing in the treehouse.

Four boys teetering on the railroad tracks, in between childhood and adulthood. And that’s enough for us.

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