Life moves by pretty fast...

I'm not going to eulogize John Hughes. Lots of people have already done that very well, and I have nothing to add. I feel like over-arching analisys of his career are better left to people with a greater stake in it: gen x-ers, middle americans, people who really went to high school, etc. Since I am none of those things, I always viewed his tales of Shermer at a remove. As a child, I imagined that when I grew up high school would be like that, and then, it wasn't (and not just because I only went for a year).

Teens are still angsty and misunderstood, of course, but the phenomenon of high school as the students' entire social world had withered by the time millenials like my self were in the desks. Notorious for our extra-curricular-heavy schedules and cyber-socializing, high school was but one among many realms in which we forged our young identities. After-school jobs, volunteer organizations, non-school related sports teams, church youth groups, study in the arts, and connecting through internet communities took up nearly as much time as high school itself, and had the advantage of putting kids in groups where there was a shared interest. While many films still follow the Hughes model of the high school experience, television was quicker to acknowledge this shift. If you look at Buffy or Dawson's Creek high school was just a place they had to go each day, occasionally learning a lesson or two, but the real business of living took place after hours, and had little to do with how they felt they were perceived by the student body, or their place within that manufactured hierarchy. Even in a show like Gossip Girl, which puts the high school in the foreground, features several teen characters who aren't even in school, and the primary tool of student interaction is a blog that chronicles the scandalous behaviour of young people, apparently city wide.

If this seems like too hard a sell, maybe I'm just overly invested in this argument because it relieves me of the feeling that I missed out on an important cultural experience by being home schooled (which, for the record, I wouldn't change for anything). At any rate, to me Hughes' work in the high school milieu represents the teen experience as it was when I was a baby, simultaneously compelling and totally alien. However, there is one film from his Shermer period that I do relate to, and I thought that for my own mini memorial, I might philosophise about it for a bit.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a joyful and cunning film. Written and directed by Hughes, it delves into his pet theme of generational alienation (a subject which fell quickly out if vogue, or at least changed perspective, during the next few years when the boomer writers began having children of their own), but manages to keep the tone light by shifting the conflict to unlikely places. As Ferris glides through his life and this day untroubled by conflict (either within himself, or with others), his best friend struggles to over come the physically debilitating sense of worthlessness caused by the emotional distance of his parents. But the eye is misdirected from this weighty material by the giddy fabulousness of Ferris's antics. The action is guided by Ferris, the narrative shaped by him in his asides to the camera, but (as he explicitly states 3/4 through the film) this adventure is for and about Cameron, who needs to see something good, and learn to enjoy his life before he and Ferris are separated by graduation and college, and he'll have to drag himself out of bed without his best friend's help. When Cameron finally explodes during the scene in the garage the audience feels his anxiety, pain, frustration, and ultimately relief, but just as it begins to sink in that this was really his story all along, we're off again on a final mad dash with Ferris, exhilarated by his unbridled infallibility, and distracted from the gravity of what has just transpired.

What distinguishes this film from it's brethren is that it's more a coming of age story than a high school story. As stated gloriously by Grace the school secretary, Ferris's popularity is not limited to the jocks, the dweebies, or the motor heads; everyone thinks he's a righteous dude. Similarly, Cameron, Sloan, and Jeanie are not boxed into discrete categories of high school life (though, if I had to guess, they'd all wind up in different boxes) but they're together in this film because they're the people in Ferris's life, and whatever social disconnect there might be is never addressed. The school, as embodied by Principal Rooney, is not Ferris's world but rather his foil, and is comically out-matched at every turn. Ferris sees high school for what it is, a phase that's quickly passing and that needn't dictate the terms of his life.

Now, unlike most young girls who grew up on the Hughes movies, I didn't identify with Molly Ringwald, or even Ally Sheedy. I wasn't a princess, or a loner, or the sort of person who's ever gone unnoticed. But I could see a bit of myself in Ferris; I am preternaturally likable, whimsical, and good at getting away with silly behaviour. I often think of myself more as a character creating an exciting story than a person who needs to live by the rules of the real world (but, while for Ferris that quality is mere meta-cinema, in me it may suggest mild mental illness ;-), and while I lack his talent for confabulation, I have every confidence that I could hijack a parade if the opportunity presented itself. It also helps that he never sets foot inside a classroom.

On a personal note, I should mention that the day before my 20th birthday I e-mailed all my professors and told them that, since it was my last day as a teenager, I would be skipping classes to stay home and watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off. They were all surprisingly supportive. So I thank you, Mr. Hughes, for making a film that was not about the drama of outcasts, nor rebels, nor queen bees and wannabes, but the joy of an irrepressibly rakish spirit who's only quest was to have fun and help others do the same. This magic day that Ferris gives to Cameron was your most delightful gift to your audience, and we are all so thankful.


Mimsy said...

Alice, your analyses of structure and themes of this endearing film -- and the key to its lasting charm -- are most insightful.

Although this and another recent post indicate some disregard for spelling, your creative and articulate mind clearly vaults over those pesky details. So, although the editorial part of my brain cannot help noting errors in spelling and syntax, i bow to you, and the revelatory flow of your 'stream-of-consciousness'.
So, don't let any nitpicking impede that flow; remember, many an exact grammarian is bound up in details (or, "... is Hungarian!")
Upward and onward Alice, Bard of the blog!!

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