Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986) October 25, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Festival, Hollywood.
Written and directed by John Hughes
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones
Truth is, at some point in our lives, we all want to be Ferris Bueller. We want to be the cool guy. We want the admiration of people we don’t know. We want everything to work out for us. We want a bestfriend like Cameron and a girlfriend like Sloane. We want parents who’ll wake us up every morning and check if we’re sick, and if we are, we want them to tell us not to worry about school because we’re more important than school, and we don’t deserve school when we’re sick. Ferris Bueller is too big to enter the dictionary, too big that he isn’t used in common conversations. But he has easily passed into our consciousness—even into our unconsciousness. He has penetrated our minds, our idea of life, our dreams, our fantasies, and their fulfillment. But Ferris is not the incredible—he is the impossible. Hughes gives him the perfect day off to tell us that it is alright to dream—that a day off is just that: a day off. But now we’ve grown up, still coping with mostly similar degree of problems, we don’t want just a day off. We want weeks off, months off, years off, decades off, a life off. That one day in Ferris’s life impressed its euphoria on us, and we hear the little voices in our head cheering us up, wanting to do the same. Like the bands Save Ferris and Rooney, we want that day to stay in our memory, to linger, to have a piece of it for us to remember. We want to give it a name.
We have imbibed Ferris’s outlook as we mature, only to realize that it is starting to wear off. We become Cameron—though truth is, we really are Cameron since the beginning. Cameron is not the antithesis of Ferris, he maybe is Ferris late in his life, or Ferris when he is not in a day off. Should we think of Ferris as a wonderful creation of Hughes, we should also not dismiss Cameron’s charming role because he makes Ferris work. We relate to Cameron’s personal and family problems even if we don’t see them, even if we don’t see his father smother him after crashing the Ferrari into the ground. Whereas we see Ferris’s problems—in school, Ed Rooney chasing him, his sister’s jealousy upon seeing him get away with all his mischief–we know he is not going to end up caught. On the other hand, we know Cameron will get the beating not only from his father, but also from life. Reality bites, but reality could be bitten back. Cameron learns he can also choose not to care.
While Ferris is busy entertaining the crowd with “Danke Schön” and insaning them afterwards with “Twist and Shout,” Sloane asks Cameron about his plans. She asks, “What are you interested in?” He answers candidly, “Nothing!” That scene, crowded by a certain tinge of merriment and dysphoria, feels so sincere and familiar that we try to convince ourselves that Cameron’s character was inspired by us, despite knowing that we were not born yet when the film was made. Cameron admits later that the day off was indeed the best day of his life. Come to think of it, the day off—which is an effort to escape from life’s dragging monotony, its consuming sadness and its common troubles—is a display of resignation, of submission to life, of embracing all the Ed Rooneys in the world after the only day when we’re allowed to be free.
We look back in the 80s and we notice the beautiful garden of high school movies that John Hughes, whose stories remarkably stood out, has written. We remember the actors—Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Matthew Broderick, Anthony Michael Hall, Mary Stuart Masterson—and we want to be their friends, we love to be their boyfriend or girlfriend, we want to be in their school—to see them, to stare at them as they pass in the hallway, to be their friend in the detention, to be their seatmate in European Socialism class. Even if we were not born yet that time and we watch them now, it is impossible not to connect, not to feel the slightest tinge of nostalgia, of innocence, of love. His plots are tightly written, conceived with a broken heart but an intelligent mind. He blesses his characters with painful truthfulness, that again, at some point in our lives, while watching and crying our hearts out, we remember having spoken their lines, delivering their heartaches, confessing their love, crying their tears, embracing their embrace, kissing their kiss.
Hughes’s feat is making it appear so light and simple yet every single plot in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off delivers a complex appropriation of truth and ironies. We have institutions willfully ignored, parents being lied to, good friends getting swayed by a truant, a city parade interrupted by a smart aleck—and it’s all fine; in the end, everything just follows the path of pleasure, where leisure rules. We write a letter to the Pope, asking, Dear Pope, what in the world is wrong with self-gratification? Films like these don’t age. When Hughes died, someone made a banner that says, Comedy is when your movie is still funny twenty years later. And here it stands, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as large as life, as hedonic as the ending of Some Kind of Wonderful. It’s like hearing someone say the words cellar door, and the door in our minds immediately open to lock the good memories in. And like being mesmerized by “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” we realize that turning points are always along the way.