The main character of the film, Jim Stark, moves to a new town and has trouble fitting in. In his family, Jim's mother is the agressor and tends to boss around his submissive father. Everytime Jim gets into trouble with the law, his family quickly sweeps the problem under the rug, primarily by moving from house to house. While adjusting to his new surroundings, Jim Stark develops relationships with both Judy and John who are struggling with similar issues at home. Judy is basically ignored by her father and tries her hardest to get his attention. John is a lonely, fragile individual from a wealthy home in which he is under the supervision of his maid for the most part. After a game of "Chicken" against popular guy "Buzz" to prove his worthiness of getting into the "in-crowd", Buzz drives off a cliff and dies.
Subsequently, Judy and Jim retreat to an abandoned house, in which John followed them. For a brief moment in time, the trio escapes from the pressures of the real world and runs around the house like young children. This moment of happiness is interrupted when Judy and Jim leave a sleeping John alone for a brief moment. Unfortunately, this is when Buzz's friends decide to interrupt their party. Out of fear, John's starts shooting at them and goes into a panicked state from being left alone. Once the police arrive, John becomes even more distraught and Jim takes it upon himself to calm him down. Jim is able to convince John to let him see the gun and takes the bullets out. At the climax of the film, Jim tries to get the police to turn off their lights as they are disturbing John, but they don't listen. John pulls out his empty gun to shoot and immediately the police start shooting at him. John is killed, and the film ends with a crying Jim as John's body is being carried out on a stretcher.
I believe that this movie is particularly powerful because it encourages young people to be compassionate to one another, and essentially "do what is right". In the film, Jim's parents never allowed him to be accountable for his actions. Jim defied this by going back and trying to help John because he understood what it felt like to be abandoned. Eventhough John's life was tragically ended, Jim tried his best to help someone who desperately needed a friend. I think we can all learn a powerful lesson from this film.