Seeing The Breakfast Club for the first time back in the middle point of my high school years has changed me, just as I was with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction a few years later. It opened my eyes to cinema’s capabilities of displaying honesty in fiction, creating a deep connection with the walking and breathing figures on screen, leaving me in complete envy and admiration. Despite my inability to care for the men and women behind the camera, the name John Hughes played a large role in my progression with cinema, he was one of the first filmmakers that I sought out to find and view his filmography, which as of yet have not achieved. I returned to this film time and time again, with each passing viewing in the turbulent years of adolescence, connecting with a different character and enriching the overall experience.
It remains an undeniable and essential classic as it achieves what no other film from the genre has achieved; it broke down the barriers that defined its seemingly shallow individuals, finding the honest complexity that is found in a young person’s mind and heart. At the time I was rejoicing, “Finally, a film that understands what many of us go through”; and though my awareness of my own angsts at the time were not as sharp as they were now, the fact that this film was able to penetrate me was remarkable.
In their introduction, we as an audience are quick to judge and label them to macro levels that allows them to be digestible, unknowing of what is to come ahead of them. These five characters are aware of their labels, they live in a world where it holds strong value as it allows convenience; even with their names, it is difficult to be completely familiar with them as Hughes’ lens highlights the appearance that these characters carry, identifying them by the nicknames that they have been given; aside from Bender since the film spends much of its time singling him out as an antagonist. Hughes even utilises the visual medium to identify these characters, highlighting their unique shoes, food, and attitudes that linger in between critical moments, but becoming more rewarding with revisits and reflection.
The true antagonist of course, at least by their eyes, is the adults and to those who we don’t see; the members of society who identify them by their prejudices, an approach that creates division and blind accusations, ergo a failure in maintaining empathy and acceptance. It is in their forced imprisonment that they begin to reveal their true nature, creating a sense of community that our schools truly need. Hughes demonstrates in their time together that we are all essentially the same, carrying similar problems that each one of us should be able to both empathise and sympathise. It was in the key scene of the students sitting in a semi-circle, finally opening up the angst that fills them and the intricacies they possess that makes each one ultimately a unique individual.
They are no longer the labels we assumed they carried, but five students who each share anxieties and pressures that take each day one at a time. Hughes cuts it off at a moment where we cannot predict of what is to come in Monday, has their new relationships changed the way they function within the system, or have reality struck again and dispersed them to their appropriate circles? A fist in the air leans to the former, a symbolic gesture that hopes to inspire his viewers to leave the theatre as a changed individual.
Although the Richard Vernon, the assistant principal of Shermer High School, is treated as a villain; Hughes isn’t completely unreasonable in his chosen perspective on the character, he is given some moments of truth just like the students, a person filled with frustration over the fact that the attitudes of his students begin to deteriorate with each passing year, fearing that our world would fall apart under their hands; his intentions are positive, and understands that at times harsher methods are required to penetrate the stubborn barriers of teenagers.
Carl, the janitor of the school, is the eyes and ears of the institution; who understands these kids more than any other adults at this school; unlike them he isn’t an authoritarian, instead he slips quietly in the background as an observer, who is aware of the trends that float its halls. Despite Hughes unwilling to go into detail of the character, there is however much to explore in his decision to remain within his school grounds, he was once a student in the school and from the way he acts so proudly, he refuses to dissociate himself from his past, hoping to retain the cherished memories of his thriving years. It was in the intimate discussion between himself and Vernon that we peer into a mindset that many films of its kind refuses to enter.
The film achieves a sense of purity in Hughes’ choice of casting and the powerful and intimate performances that they bring. Returning in his sophomore film are two of his key creations, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall as Claire and Brian. Despite the age differences and fewer experience in comparison with the three other cast members; Emilio Estevez (Andrew), Judd Nelson (Bender), and Ally Sheedy (Allison); they were able to hold their ground in the most affecting of scenes, at times even more, truly highlighting their capabilities in the craft, which unfortunately did not flourish as high as they should. Nelson, Estevez, and Sheedy were also impressive, capturing their youthful roles perfectly and individualising their roles that grow and become more profound as they spend more time together. These are strong performances that one could rarely see from its genre, and because of it, it has left a mark to all those who have viewed it.
The Breakfast Club does not scream out its ground-breaking elements, it remains subtle and deeply affecting; it acts as a social commentary of youth, one that is able to connect regardless of the generation of its audience; it has been thirty years since its release and it continues to grow its audience with each passing era, with the adults finding nostalgic beauty while the younger audiences find something more intimate and special.
Don’t worry John Hughes, I would never forget you and the amazing films that you have left us.