Friday, May 1st 2020:
Happy Friday everyone! And for today’s blog I want to just jump right into it. I am going to try to do one every Friday which leaves me to do a lot of research during the week and I will still blog but not daily like I was before given the amount of research this type of blogging takes. What is it that I am going to do? How about every Friday I review a movie…from the 80’s!! Yes, that is right. I am going to give you my point of view and write it in a review of some movies that we all possibly love from the 80’s. First up…
The Breakfast Club
If you were a teenage or a kid in the 80’s you have probably seen this movie. It was release in 1985. It stared some really great famous actors that some might say this movie helped launch their careers. John Hughes wrote and directed this film. He was really good at keeping in touch with what kids were going through in the 80’s and translate that to film. Fun, parties, getting into trouble, stuff like that. He was a master at and he had a lot of success with it. But this film was different. It didn’t have any action, no wild rescues or some type of hero saving someone in the end. It was not a very popular topic to discuss openly during the 80’s but yet Mr. Hughes was able to pull this off with such high success. What is this film really about? Teenagers with problems? This is what happens to kids when they get into trouble at school? What is this movie really about? Most kids at the time this came out did not have the attention span to understand this film. But parents did. And yet they didn’t watch it much. So why make this movie? And how come it is still relevant in today’s society? Let me try to explain.
To really explain how this movie goes, we need to start at the beginning. At the very start a quote is displayed for us all to read. It is very cryptic but makes total sense towards the end of the film. The quote says:
“…And these children
That you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware
Of what they’re going through…”– David Bowie
John Hughes is sending a message here to…the parents of kids. He is preparing them for this film that this is a film more for them then it is for kids/teens. Reason why is because no matter parents do, no matter what they say, or no matter how much pressure they put their kids through, the kids are immune to it, not affected by it, and no matter what, the kids know exactly what is going on as they try to live their lives…not as them/parents. This is a powerful message and it will get revisited later in our discussion.
At the start of the film we hear a letter, or note, being read to us by one of the main characters. We don’t know the reason because our writer, John Hughes, is sort of giving us a “what’s to come” right out the gate. The letter says:
“Dear Mr. Vernon
We accept the fact we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did was wrong. What we did was wrong, but we think you are crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions: You see us a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That is the way we saw each other at 7 o’clock. We were brain washed.”
Very interesting how this is worded. Sounds like the we, as the audience, are being introduced to a group that is being labeled by specific stereotypes, by this man named Mr. Vernon. We will soon find out why. Now rather than explaining the movie what I want to do is just introduce the main characters, their role in what they play, and then dive into the first climax of the movie and then the final climax. From there I will wrap it up and sort explain how I see this movie.
Andrew Clark: Emilio Estevez plays this role of a senior high school athlete who is a wrestler. He has a big identity problem that sort of landed him here in Saturday school. He also wants to be the alpha of the group. His stereotype is that he is popular, preppy, and good looking. Almost like a high school quarterback but being a wrestler makes him tougher than that.
Claire Standish: Molly Ringwald is the leading female of this movie. Her character is labeled as the prettiest girl in school, very popular, and very selfish. Her weapon is that she knows how popular she is, and she uses that to get what she wants. Her life is about to change big time.
Brian Johnson: Anthony Michael Hall is probably the most famous of the groups as far as acting goes. But in this movie, he the least popular of the young men in this film. His stereotype is that he is a nerd, smart, and dull. Almost like people make fun of him. But he has a darker much deeper conflict that the group will soon discover, along with himself.
Allison Reynolds: Ally Sheedy, one of my favorite actresses of the 80’s, plays this role masterfully. She is quiet, reserved and just weird. Her stereotype is that she is crazy, disconnected, no friends, odd ball out, etc. We rarely hear from her in the film, but when we actually do hear from her, her message and role is powerful and very pivotal to our other main characters and how they see themselves.
John Bender: Last but not least, Judd Nelson plays the role of the “criminal”. The looser of the bunch. The one that has no future, doesn’t listen to the adults, and prone to failure once he gets out of high school. The writer makes all of this obvious to us but why? There has to be a reason why he is like this right? Same goes for the rest of the kids, why are this way? John in my opinion is the most important character in the film. His role is so important, it actually makes the movie stand up on its own.
There are some others in this movie like the principle Mr. Vernon and the janitor named Carl. They have their own sub-plot in the film, and they sort of disappear about halfway through the film. I will touch on that later.
As the movie opens up, our group is introduced to each other in very predicable ways. By conflict, by comparing “who did what” to get Saturday school. But right away you can see that Claire and Andrew are teaming up against everyone. They know Brian is a nerd, and that John is a dope head, or a looser. In fact, when John and Andrew get into a argument, Andrew tells John that he is nothing, that he doesn’t matter, that he doesn’t belong at the school. John takes it all in stride because he has nerves of steel. For the most part, John drives this movie. He first uses a tactic to get under everyone’s skin. Not to fight them or hurt them, but to cut them down to his level. He teases and mocks Claire for possibly not being a virgin and that she might be having sex with Andrew. Claire tries to ignore John, but it is no use. He keeps digging on her until finally Andrew has to step in. When Andrew steps in, he first starts with verbal assaults, then eventually he resorts to trying to fight John. But still, John is not having it. He tells Andrew how he would just kill him and that while everyone is sad and missing Andrew, that John will not miss him at all. To make his point, John even shows Andrew he has a knife to do the job with. Brian is also a target of John’s abuse. He makes fun of Brian and being that Brian is weak, there is nothing he can do about it. The only person John doesn’t pick on is Allison. She stays quiet just observing the whole time. When Mr. Vernon comes in, John shows the group that not only is he not afraid of his classmates but is not afraid of Mr. Vernon. And Vernon tries to match his “touch guy” attitude at times by further punishing John. Again, this has no effect on John. This guy is made of steel and has no heart for anyone.
Now the plot point is slowly revealing itself. In my opinion, the plot is not about these kids, or the school or their stereotypes. It is about their parents. Yes. The parents. The parents are the reason why the kids are the way they are. And it is because of that, is the reason why they are all in Saturday school. At one point in the film, Andrew asks Claire if she is going to go to a party that night. She isn’t sure what she wants to do. She says she does what her mother tells her what NOT to do, because her father says it’s okay. John asks Claire who she likes more, her mom or dad. She gives a very simple answer and says neither of them, that she would rather live with her brother. Later on, during the first climax of the film, we get a sense of why John is the way he is. It is during the lunch break; everyone has food to eat but John. The message here is that everyone has a family or parents that care for their kid, but John clearly has issues at home because of the things he has shared and also the fact he doesn’t have a lunch. As he proceeds to make fun of Brian and how perfect John thinks his life is, the group asks John to show them what things are like at his house. John then opens up and shows the group just what is wrong with him. He comes from an abusive house. His father beats him. His father takes cigarettes and burns them into John’s arm when he did something wrong. Andrew doesn’t believe John is that way because he says it is “all just an act to make people think he is tough”. But after John shows Andrew the burn mark up close and personal, Andrew withdraws, almost in a way that he finally believes John. Then John, lashes out violently by throwing books and other stuff all around in the library. The director doesn’t show us this, we just hear it. What we do see are the faces of the group as they look to the floor in almost embarrassment as they all have just realized they were wrong about John. I see this as John being the first one to really open up here and show the group a side to him, they didn’t know existed. That takes a lot to do that and John makes sure that he cut each one of them down to the point to where they would have the wrong idea about him and in a rage he would show them, thus making them feel stupid and wrong and ultimately trust him. This is how John gains their respect, their friendship. Why? Because they are going to need it later.
One of the things John did, was to show each member of the group who they really are. But most of the group didn’t face those facts. We see this during the film when the janitor makes an appearance. When Carl makes his appearance, our group is trying, in a very unnatural way to get to know each other but are being very negative and typical in their judgements. We don’t know if they are right or wrong. But one thing we do know is that we understand why they do this. This is a natural human behavior that we all practice. Judging someone before you get to know them, something we all do. When Carl the janitor enters the story, John tries to insult him by simply stating that Andrew is interested in being a janitor, like it is a looser type job to do. But Carl responds back with a classic line after explaining that he is not some “peasant” that they can just walk over. He says he goes through their lockers, reads their letters, and later in the film we will see he does the same thing to the faculty who work there. “I am the eyes and ears of this institution.” That is a massive bomb he just dropped on the group. Why? Because as they stereotype and judge each other, it all backfires on them when they do the same to Carl and he lets it be known that they are wrong. This is setting the theme to this whole movie. High school kids judging each other classmates, and defying their adult counterparts is something that is wrong to do. Carl shows this to them, very quickly. He is more than what you can see. In fact, he probably taught those kids more in that moment then Vernon does in the entire movie.
Now let’s visit the 2nd climax. This happens when the group has accepted each other and are getting along well enough to have open discussions. What caused this change in behavior? Marijuana. Yes, weed changes our group attitude big time. In fact, it mellows them out, calms them down, and all this is made possible by John. The one guy they seemed to dislike the most early in the morning. John’s tactics has grown on them, but John knew that in order for this group to get through the day, they needed to loosen up and relax. And what better way to do that than smoking some weed. After the group smokes out together, they get together, sitting on the floor much closer to each other and facing each other. This is a lot different than how they were seated before. As they talk about their issues, they soon discover that they are the way they are because of their parents. Let me break it down for you.
John: His dad is a drunk and is very abusive. This is why John has no respect towards his teachers, or his classmates. He feels sorry for himself because everyone has it better than he does. This angers him and he lashes out by doing things he is not supposed to do. Like pulling the fire alarm at school. This is what caused him to get Saturday school.
Andrew: Andrew’s father pressures him to do everything perfect. He must win every match and win at everything else in his life because his dad says he does not tolerate losers in the family. So, Andrew put athletic tape on a fellow students’ buttocks because Andrew felt that it would get the approval of his father because this kid was weak and that it would impress his dad. But it didn’t. His dad got more upset with him saying that it is stunts like this that will cause Andrew to miss his free ride to college by way of an athletic scholarship. The pressure that Andrew is under is so much that he has grown to hate his father. He hates him so much because his future is not his own, it is what his father wants. Again, the parents.
Claire: Skipping class and going shopping are the reasons why Claire is in Saturday school. But like John and Andrew, she hates her parents. Her parents use her to get back at each other because they are going to get a divorce at some point. Also, Claire is under a lot of pressure being so popular at school. She hates it a lot actually. She doesn’t want to live a life of just doing what her friends tell her to do. This leads her to live a life of sadness, and we can all see that as she explains how difficult she thinks her life is but compared to everyone else, she has it perfect. Claire acknowledges this at the end of the film by giving John one of her diamond earrings. Almost to sort of say that she is sorry, but she likes him enough to share part of her life with him. It is a very sweet gesture to do and it warms John’s heart up.
Allison: The strangest of the group confesses that she is a compulsive liar and that she had nothing better to do on a Saturday, and this is why she is there. She did nothing wrong.
Brian: This is a difficult one. Brian is in Saturday school for a reason nobody really knows, not even the school. Brian was going to attempt suicide. He had gotten a failing grade in wood shop. This grade in his eyes, had ruined his whole life. He didn’t see any reason to keep going so he brought a gun to school to shoot himself with. But he didn’t do it. What happened was that he brought a flair gun to school instead and it fired off in his locker, thus causing a fire and getting him in trouble. Brian didn’t seem to know it was a flair gun. Brian was so hard on himself because his parents do this to him. They seem to pressure him to not only have good grades, but to have perfect grades. This pressure made him crack when he finally failed at something. And it turned out to be something very simple. This also put Brian in a place where he is not familiar with. This is why he resorted to suicide as a way out.
Now this is heavy. Parental pressure has led these kids to be who they are on this day. And on this day, they have realized just how much the same they all are. No matter what stereotype they are branded, they are all the same. The share the same common problem. They don’t like their parents, and they are afraid of growing up to be like them. The group faces this issue head on by drilling each other with “what if” type scenarios. The truth comes out as they all seem to be walking down the same road. The hard part is that when they all go back to school, will some of the group change their ways and start living a different life. John, Andrew and Brian seem to be willing to change. But not Claire. And Allison does finally decide to change when she lets Claire do her makeup and play dress up with her. Allison’s problem was not so much with her parents, but with her classmates. She said, “nobody sees me”. Allison felt like a loner, isolated and all alone and it took the bonding of her and Claire to get her to finally be noticed by Andrew, whom she seems to like. Andrew and Allison kiss in the end almost to show us that Andrew is going to be okay. Claire kisses John and gives him her earring to show that finally, she is willing to change and be okay. Brian writes the letter we heard at the beginning of the film and he seems to have gained 4 new friends in the group. This makes him very happy as he is now seeing the wrong in his ways. And finally, John, our main star of the film. As he walks away into the horizon, he playfully smiles almost in approval that Claire likes him and kissed him. He has a facial expression that after all the years in high school struggling to find someone who he can open up to and understand him, he has finally found that person in Claire, or shall I say, in the Breakfast club.
Vernon and resorts to reading the files of other teachers that he doesn’t like at the school until the janitor catches him. Vernon bribes the janitor to not say anything and then opens up to him saying that the kids have “turned on him”. But like the janitor did with the kids, he tells Vernon that the kids didn’t change, that Vernon has changed. He said you have gotten old. And the kids haven’t. Vernon says to Carl that what scares him is that these kids will be taking care of them when they get older, almost like he is afraid that the kids are not good enough to inherit the world he knows. But Carl breaks him down. He says that Vernon took this job because he thought it would be fun. That he would get summers off. But then Vernon discovered that it was actually a real job with real work to do. And that he got older, and that he changed. And after Vernon tells him about the fear he has, Carl says to him “don’t count on it.” Meaning that Vernon is wrong in his fear that this generation is going to mess up by taking care of the adults when they get elderly. The message here to adults is that just because you get older and change, doesn’t mean that the kids of today are going to mess everything up giving you a reason to not like them. This message is clearly for the parents and is still relevant today.
Thanks for reading everyone. Please feel free to comment. Next week I will review another 80’s movie that I love and see differently now, finally after 30 years. I haven’t decided on what that might be yet but right now it might be either “Predator” or Rocky 4.
More to come!