‘And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.’ – David Bowie
An instantly iconic synth-pop hook invading our ears courtesy of Simple Minds. ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’? 30 years on, we certainly haven’t. ‘The Breakfast Club’ remains a cinematic experience that has retained a remarkable ability to tap into the fragile mind-sets of many a teenager. The leading light of the coming-of-age genre during the 1980’s with the likes of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’, director John Hughes provided a refreshing voice to a generation often searching for their own true identity. Sadly passing away at the age of 59 in 2009, his wonderfully poignant body of work will continue to resonate and mend our hearts years on.
The brain. The athlete. The princess. The basket case. The criminal. Brian. Andrew. Claire. Allison. John. The archetypal high-school stereotypes, belonging to their respective circles, whom have grown unhealthily accustomed to their individual pressures. One precious Saturday. Devoted to detention. Against the task of writing an essay on ‘who they are’ in what can be considered the most confusing time of one’s development, the concept of these five people being polar opposites is deconstructed in poignant, often uncompromising fashion.
The film instantly taps into the clichéd bonds. The shared popularity of the prom queen and the machismo of its sport supremo. The simmering sexual tension between the princess and the antagonist. The geek trying to replicate the actions of his fellow pupils in a bid to look cool, as the introverted kook based at the far end of the library looks on perplexed, as her dandruff adds an unorthodox layer to a drawing. The eccentricities and insecurities of ourselves we often take for granted, highlighted as they’re equally lamented and celebrated.
For all their suggestive social standing, the loneliness of these teens becomes a prominent theme. Self-confessed in how bizarre they are, the relationships with their parents and their educators (most notably Paul Gleason’s Mr Vernon) are dissected as warped in their displays of compassion and encouragement. The beautifully-observed centrepiece of the film as the emptied contents of their wallets and their bags prove the ideal visual metaphors as they unload their emotional baggage.
For the girls, it’s the sense of self-respect from a sexual standpoint. Allison’s compulsive liar eager to branch her horizons away from an unsatisfying home life as she fabricates a story involving a shrink, implying that it’s a double-edged sword for Claire. Still a virgin? You’re a prude. If you’ve had sex? You’re a slut. Our innocence declared a weapon to be a tease. In modern times with social media and technology rampant, the issue has only been accentuated as we look for a different type of protection against such a potential perception.
The shared pressures of the aspiring figures. Andrew’s teary breakdown as the consuming guilt of the act that landed him there pours out, inquisitive about the humiliation the kid he tormented had to face up to back home. All for the deluded benefit of the ‘mindless machine’ that is his father, demanding the status of being number one. Solidified by Brian’s regular panic over grades. The fear of failing his idealistic parents, as he unfairly dismisses the skills applied and needed for other subjects. Only to stun the collective with an admission of a gun being found in his locker. The heart-breaking stance that one F could be perceived as life or death, when Brian has his whole life ahead of him.
John’s longing to belong. Andrew initially stating if he disappeared, no one would care. His boiling hatred for fellow teens benefitting from the riches of their parents, focussing intently on Claire. Declaring her the high-school Rapunzel, with the establishment shutting down if she didn’t show up. Yet such feelings stemming from a violent home life, eluded to in an intense re-enactment merely disregarded as ‘part of his image’. His run-ins with Mr Vernon only exaggerate the ill feeling.
We’ve all had that wisecracking teacher. Years into the job. The verbal venom spilling onto many a classroom desk as we either rebel or retreat from a subject that may just be our ‘calling’. Mr Vernon’s exasperated self unsettlingly captured here as he tears apart John. Suggesting months later to go visit the ‘bum’, as he brags about his $31,000 a year salary, unwilling to give it up on the likes of him. His ‘first punch’ stance, blurs the lines between John’s experiences at home and the seemingly safe confines of such an environment.
They all ponder the scenarios on that fateful Monday morning. Would they meet and greet each other, with the glare of their peers intensified at the mere idea of a geek and a sportsman together, or a popular girl bonding with the kook? Such soul-baring complimented by cutting loose in a fun-loving fashion as they bust moves. United in their joy as well as their issues. Knowing they may not be the best of friends post-detention, but they have a greater respect and understanding for each other.
Brian trusted to bring a different slant to the intended essay. Claire’s pampering as she opens the eyes of Allison’s hidden beauty to the male form, particularly Andrew. The sly kiss on the neck to John, implying that he never would have had the guts to make the first move, as he declares his bad boy image an outstanding way to tarnish Claire’s princess persona.
In 2015, sexuality may not be as lazily defined. Modern culture may be dominated by once-perceived geeky excesses as the likes of Marvel/DC transcend. But the issues faced in one’s teenage years remain the same. All we ever want, is to wake up every morning without feeling alone. Accepted for who we are, regardless of the flaws we over-analyse and embracing the similarities shared with an unlikely other. Without judgment or prejudice.
‘Saturday March 24th 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois. 60062. Dear Mr Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found is that each one of us is a brain.. and an athlete.. and a basket case.. a princess.. and a criminal. Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club’
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