You know, the phrase “influential” can take on different forms when talking about a movie. I could mean that it influenced the genre, or perhaps a technique used within it becomes widely used, or it could even be used to mean that it had an influence on the watcher. And it is this later use that I classify today’s film. In fact, were I to be totally honest, I would go one step further and call today’s film one of the defining influences on my life. Today’s film is a film that I can happily watch 3,4,5 times a year, and probably have since I first saw it over 20 years ago.
Today’s film is The Breakfast Club.
Long cemented as my favourite film ever, The Breakfast Club is the story of five high school kids, from different circles, who come together in the best Saturday detention ever and leave better people for it. Starring members of The Brat Pack, this is a film that was what I wanted my high school life to be like. Nerdy Brian, school jock Andrew, rich bitch Claire, outcast Alison and no good gutter punk Bender all find themselves in Saturday detention for a variety of reasons under the “watchful” eye of Principal Vernon and have to spend the day confined to the library.
At the start of the day, they all find themselves still subscribing to the rules of high school (Group A doesn’t associate with Group B, everyone stays away from Group C, etc) and act accordingly. But, as there is precious little else to do throughout the day, they get to talking to one another and through one reveal or another, the high school barriers break down and they find out that they aren’t so different after all, all with pretty much the same fears, hopes, dreams and lives as each other.
As the day moves on, they start to look at (and treat) each other as equals, and even as friends, opening themselves up to each other even further. This eventually leads to one of the most powerful scenes in the film, in which that even with their newfound respect for one another, once the day is over, it will be too hard for some of them to buck societal conventions, and that playing along with those rules is easier than to follow their individual wants and needs. This puts the group at odds with one another as Andrew and Claire feel more unwilling to put aside their social mores than the other members of the group. Even though Brian says that he would be willing to call the more popular students his friends, it is revealed that he would be primarily doing it to increase his own social standing in the eyes of his peers, thus showing him to have the same sort of superficialities as his “social betters”.
Eventually, their tenure in detention comes to an end, with the group deciding ultimately to try to put caution aside and remain friends (or more) after the day is through, regardless of what may come from that decision. However, the film is left fairly ambiguous due to it ending pretty much the same way it began, with our five protagonists showing only minor changes outside of their one day prison. However, within the walls, they all found themselves, while not fully taking on aspects of each other, at least becoming more open to one another and the worlds that they came from outside of the confines of high school.
As I have stated, this is my all-time favourite film, and with good reason. It came to me at the absolute most perfect time that it could have – I was just starting high school myself, and was struggling with my identity within those new walls. And, in these five characters (well, seven, if you want to count
and the Janitor), I found that I, too, was not just one thing nor could I be labelled as such, regardless of my eventual social strata. I found that, even though there were pressures to only be seen as one thing, due to whatever I felt most comfortable doing during my high school time, I could just as easily be another, as long as I remained true to myself in the end. And it didn’t matter, as long as I was happy. Vernon
John Hughes long had a reputation for his accurate depictions of teenagers in his films which stemmed from his want to not only have actual teenagers in his casts (The Breakfast Club was the first major role for Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall – both 16 at time of filming), but actually listening to his young casts and incorporating their ideas and experiences into the stories he told. And this came across in all of his films (the 80s ones, at least), with natural characters dealing with age appropriate problems in age appropriate ways. And that translated to we, the impressionable viewer, showing us how we could deal with similar kinds of problems without the “embarrassment” of having to speak with adults (who, at least in our eyes “never had our problems and couldn’t understand what we were going through”). And if you couldn’t get what you needed from one John Hughes movie, you sure as heck could get it from another. In this authenticity is the reason why The Breakfast Club is my favourite film – as (outside of one or two fairly clunky actions or lines of dialogue) I felt it was the most authentic that he ever got.