Without a doubt, "East of Eden" is my favorite movie of all time. No other movie has ever resonated with me like this one has. Ever.
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, "East of Eden" is like a re-telling of the Cain and Abel story. The movie is set in 1917 Salinas, California, right before the U.S. entered World War I. James Dean plays the part of Cal (representing Cain, the underappreciated son), who vies for the attention of his father again his perfect, obedient brother Aron (Abel). Only no matter what Cal does, it's never good enough for his father. To add to his misery is his love for his brother's girlfriend Abra, who seems to understand Cal more than his own family does.
Believing he is "bad", Cal sets out to find the source of that badness. It appears in the form of his mother, whom he was told had died when they were young. Finally Cal understands that part of himself, but he is more determined than ever to win his father's love. Thinking he's found a way, Cal is devastated when his father rejects the gift Cal presents him with, and he lashes out at the one person his father loves most: Aron. Cal shows Aron the truth about their mother, and the truth pushes Aron over the edge. Now Cal is forced to face the consequences of his actions, and what he decides to do is take responsibility and become a man.
Obviously, James Dean's performance is what is so mesmerizing, how he holds nothing back and allows you to see his vulnerability, his pain, and his hope. But what I liked most about it was that his moody, intense Cal, was the one that could be depended on when things got tough. Because he had always been told how "bad" he was, he had no illusions. So when his father becomes ill, it's Cal who is willing to take care of him, to face reality and deal with his "cross to bear". I love that. What I mean is, I love that the one person who seems to be the one least likely you can count on ends up being the only one who sticks it out instead of shirking his responsibilities. I love that finally, he's made to feel needed, and in turn loved, and now he can be at peace. It's so simple, to just love someone, thorns and all, and with a little nurturing, watch that love flourish into something stable and solid and real.
I've seen this movie dozens of times, and I still get tingles watching the scene at the top of the ferris wheel, and it still makes me ache to see Cal try to win his father's love. I find some new detail everytime I watch it. Now that is a classic.