Hughes is a teen-flick King in the mind of many film fans, perhaps due to his sincere compassion for the alienation of adolescence. His 80s era films received cult status in the years after their release, and each one was written by a 30-something year old man.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is basically ‘some guys have all the luck‘ for 1 hour and 43 minutes. Released in 1986, it has most of the hallmarks of a John Hughes movie: a self-aware lead character, witty dialogue, anti-authoritarianism etc., and yet it’s more optimistic than his usual efforts. The protagonist in his golden era of film would typically be a misunderstood outcast from a lower-middle class home undergoing high school trauma but Ferris Bueller breaks this mold completely. Ferris is a rich kid loved by everybody, spanning from the police department to those he manipulates in ‘junior’ year. He is an ‘everyman’* who gets what he wants and doesn’t face the consequences -an interesting morality when you see it on the page but on the big screen you accept his antics as harmless fun.
A character more in keeping with the Hughes catalogue is the ‘always sick’ (and probably clinically depressed) Cameron Frye. The most famous theory about the film is centred around this down-trodden dude and his penchant for self-pity. It has long been said that Cameron imagines the eventful ‘day off’ from his bed and Ferris is merely a figment of his imagination; the happy-go-lucky guy he wishes he could be. Sloane is supposedly based on a girl he fancies from afar in school, so she takes her place as his alter-ego’s lover. The crux of this conspiracy can be summarised by the phrase ‘…and it was all a dream’.
I think it’s a bittersweet idea, but also totally bogus.
In her book, ‘Life Moves Pretty Fast: The lessons we learned from eighties movies (and why we don’t learn them from movies any more)’, Hadley Freeman points out that ‘only a teenager could think that Ferris is cool’ since his hedonism comes from a place of arrogance and immaturity. When you’re a teenager living out the mundanity of high school without much attention, you envy the ‘popular’ people because they get a reaction from everybody – some people look back at their school days and recall the misery of feeling invisible. John Hughes was one of these introspective types, so instead of creating a main character close to his teenage self again, he imagined what it would have been like if he experienced the notoriety other kids enjoyed. And thus, Ferris Bueller was born.
To add credence to this idea, all of Hughes’ teenage melodramas were based on his hometown of Chicago and filmed in surrounding areas to reflect the class divide he witnessed as he grew up. As a child, Hughes recalled his own solo trips to the art gallery frequented by the trio onscreen, adding The Smiths contemporary melancholy to give it the perfect soundtrack. By including such a scene Hughes was able to revisit these moments from a more carefree perspective – and in this film, perception is key. Ferris makes a speech during the parade aimed at Cameron’s self-imposed misery: “I’d like to dedicate it to a young man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today”.
It hardly stretches the imagination to say that writing allows you to live vicariously through an imaginary realm, and with Ferris, he visualised an adolescence he wished was his own, if only he wasn’t trapped in the self-hatred typified in the familiar angst of Cameron.
Maybe Ferris Bueller wrapped up his inner work in solving the injustices he experienced as a young’un in America, and he felt like the tone change was an appropriate place to say ‘Danke Schoen’ to all the audience members allowing him to grow up again.
*(An everyman is a misguided term referring to the supposedly normal privilege a person enjoys for being a white middle class man)