Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Paramount, 1986. Directed by John Hughes.

In this review, which appeared in the March 1994 edition of The Sentinel, David Bennett explains why the positive message of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, with its emphasis on living life, helped make it the archetypal film of teen independence, and why this message wrong-footed the film's liberal critics.

James Bond of AdolescentsThe character of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is the James Bond of adolescents; he's seemingly able to do anything, self-assured and always able to land on his feet no matter how improbable the odds. For good measure he also has Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), his devoted and good looking girlfriend. Ferris's savoir-faire contrasts with the awkwardness, cautiousness, frustration and anxiety of his best friend, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck). The adventures that Ferris and his two friends experience when they take a day off school are hilarious and invigorating.
There seems to be little more to the movie's theme than simply having a good time and enjoying life. Of all the films directed by John Hughes, (such as The Breakfast Club), Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the one which probably stands out in people's minds. This is in spite of the fact that in contrast to other films of Hughes', Ferris Bueller's Day Off lacks any implicit counter-cultural theme or cant social message of youth alienation. Indeed, the film's settings are decidedly up-market.
The CriticsIt is therefore not surprising that film critics of a left-liberal persuasion have derided the film as inane and dangerously unprincipled because it allegedly glamorises behaviour such as deceit, manipulation and self-centredness. When the movie was released in 1986, Peter Thompson, film critic for Australia's Sunday programme, warned that it promoted the idea that young people could assume adult abilities before they were mature. For the trendy left, the ethos of the film is one which reflected the selfishness of the Reaganite 1980s. However, the film's message that the secret to life is to get on with living life is timeless. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is hence in he genre of the Mame movies and Ferris' observation, "Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" is reminiscent of Aunt Mame's comment; "Life's one big banquet and most sons of bitches are starving."
It is Ferris' capacity to grasp and activate the essence contained in those quotations that enables him to savour life and master its challenges. Such a seemingly hedonistic approach to life is not narcissistic. Both Cameron and Ferris' sister Katie (Cindy Pickett), after making this attitudinal shift, become transformed people as they are able to see life as something that extends beyond their own self-created problems. This is something the film's villain, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), is unable to do, as he derives his sense of self-worth from his position as Dean of Students because it enables him to indulge in, and derive satisfaction from, bullying those for whom he is supposed to be responsible.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off might have enjoyed the acceptance of the chattering classes if it had a more explicit anti-establishment message, as pervades The Dead Poets' Society. But then again, being a popular and engaging (and even profound) movie about young people without an overt or covert political message is what helps place Ferris Bueller's Day Off on the cutting edge.
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Copyright 1994 David Bennett