Belonging in “The Breakfast Club”

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The Breakfast Club Movie. Photo from Google.

Most of us are familiar with a very stereotypical experience: the high school retreat. You are taken out to a random cabin in the middle of the woods, the food isn’t great, the people even less so, and teachers expect you to bare your innermost secrets to a group of strangers that you have had no say in being part of. After five days of “bonding” you make endless promises to be friends at school. Only for a week later to pretend you never saw those people to begin with. 

“The Breakfast Club”, a hit classic from the 1980s, portrays this very scenario. Directed by the famed John Hughes, director of classic movies such as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the “Home Alone” trilogy, “The Breakfast Club” follows his signature coming of age style. 

While not a class retreat, a  group of five individuals corresponding to the stereotypical high school roles (brain, jock, princess, rebel, basket-case) are stuck in all-day Saturday detention as they slowly open up about themselves. The detention area is ruled with an iron fist by Principal Vernon, played by Paul Gleason, a symbol of overbearing authority figures who view the youth not as people but as objects. 

While this film promised to be quite heartwarming and engaging, the movie fell flat in several key areas.

Each character was forced into a role with certain expectations and norms, and as a result, there was a culture clash amongst the different students. This hostility did not end. 

As the movie progressed and each individual revealed themselves to be complex characters merely playing a role, the insults and petty remarks did not abate. No one was able to show proper appreciation for the other despite their openness. That was really disappointing. 

In addition to this, the film blatantly attempts to capitulate to the rising moral degeneracy of the youth and American society as a whole. The film celebrates underage alcohol consumption, abuse of the sexual faculties, and drug use; trivializing moral issues to such a degree that it threatened to veil the good messages the film was trying to convey. It was like trying to find a diamond in a three-week old pile of laundry.  

Despite that, at its core the movie was quite beautiful. For one, the music is phenomenal, truly some of the best the ‘80s had to offer. The music worked well with the different scenes, and there is a classic dance montage that integrates ‘80s rock with teenage spirit. The scenes flowed smoothly together and each part had something new to offer to the whole.

The cast was well chosen with the actors playing to their strengths. Molly Ringwald plays a stuck up wealthy girl named Claire Standish whose natural chemistry with delinquent John Bender (played by Judd Nelson) was one of the many highlights of the film. Unlike most movies that star a young cast, it did not come off as cringey or forced.

Where the movie truly excelled was its bold look into the personal struggles with family, friends and identity that every teenager has to confront as they get older. Each student was forced into a role that limited their sense of self-autonomy and suppressed their own personal identity. Over time, most of the students reclaimed their sense of identity as they grappled with issues they had never dealt with before.

Additionally, contrary to the overarching culture of hyperindividualism, the students manage to form some semblance of community and solidarity, showing that man is a social being with responsibility for others in the community around him. 

These factors contribute to a sense of rewatchability. It is great to see the characters slowly reveal themselves knowing what the end result will be. There are many minor facets that deserve attention such as the contrast between the principal and the janitor which makes for a compelling side plot.

Many UD students faced similar challenges going through the highs and lows of high school. Yet, despite being surrounded by cultural forces that use every power at their disposal to try to mold us into what they wanted us to become, we arrived at UD having cultivated a sense of virtue and purpose. 

In attempting to answer the question posed by Principal Vernon, who these five teenagers really are, the students realize that no one is trapped within their assigned archetype. As Brian writes in their assigned detention essay, “Each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

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