Despite being an extroverted child with Asperger’s, it still seems to surprise some of my friends who did not know me growing up that I never once had a detention. Of course, it helps when nearly every person in your family history was a teacher in some capacity.
When I mentioned this to one of the minister’s at my church, he said he found that rather hard to believe. I responded simply, “That’s because you never met my dad”. That is not to say my dad was deeply strict or anything. My dad was totally loving and supportive. The issue was that, as a High School social studies teacher turned Dean turned Assistant Principal, he would tell me stories at the dinner table about what all the “bad” kids did (to be fair, it was more entertaining than what the “good” kids did). These stories, which must have started as far back as when I was a 1st grader were ingrained in my mind to know when to not mess around (despite being a self confessed class clown from time to time.)
This all be said, I am unable to say how accurate a demonstration of the given detention format is in The Breakfast Club (especially since it was made a couple years before I was even born). Either way, the film still works because, despite what generation one was born in, we all have the same amounts of mixed feelings and insecurities (not to mention hormones).
Set in an Illinois high school, five students are to serve a full nine hours of Saturday detention, in which time the Dean, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), expects each of them to write an essay (no less than a 1,000 words) about who they think they are. Each of the five represents five of the stereotypical teenager: The jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the beauty queen Claire (80s mega star Molly Ringwald), the brain Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), the criminal (John) Bender (Judd Nelson), and the basket case Allison (Ally Sheedy).
Essentially, the movie is a state play, as it is set primarily in the library (which was made specifically for the movie). This means the film’s script was essential to the success of the film. Of course, it helps when the writer/director is the late great John Hughes, one of the most defining filmmakers of the 1980s. Along with this, he scripted films such as Vacation (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987), and Home Alone (1990).
These films had more than just classic lines (“Bueller?…Bueller…?” and “Those aren’t pillows!”, to name a few). He had humor and heart in each of the characters he created, even the janitor Carl (John Kapelos). When I first saw the film (which must of been in my last year or two of High School but I am not sure), I remember listening to Carl talking to the kids. When he said he is “the eyes and the ears of this institution”, I could not help but have more respect for janitors ever since.
Each student of The Breakfast Club is in detention for his/her own reason (if you have seen it, you know what those are), so it is fair to say that none of them start off well with each other. Still, Hughes manages to let each character have their own moment(s) in the spotlight (Bender indeed has most of the lines at the start, but he is one who always yearns for attention). Despite the fact that each actor was older than a teenager while filming (as is many case in the history of cinema), they are all very effective.
Now for the last 15-20 minutes or so of the film. After moments of rage, running, lying, and absurdity (Andrew making the glass break is clearly a mistake since it makes no sense), the kids finally sit down and talk. This is during the same time that Vernon has sat down with Carl in the basement, as Vernon reflects on the negatives of his career, and how these kids will be taking care of him when he is old (it is clear he crosses a line with Bender when they talk alone, and Vernon promises “I’m gonna be there”). Of course, we spend more time with the kids discussing their issues than we would ever want to hear about what the adults are feeling.
All of the acting (for the most part) is completely sublime, as each student spills their hearts out to each other on everything they are feeling. As someone who does not cry often in movies, this scene will get my eyes rather damp. The best way I can describe it is something like a summer camp. Though I don’t remember these talks as a camper, I have spent many of the last few summers as a counselor. The deep discussions campers you have with campers are soul piercing and will change lives (especially if they start it).
Parents, the film is rated R, though I would argue that every teenager should see this when they are in high school. There is swearing (something that I doubt will ever leave high schools in general), as well as sexual discussion. Still, the feelings of insecurity and rage and all other emotions of teenagers are discussed better in this film than any other I have seen, so you owe it to your kids to have them see this when they reach the right age.
There are a plethora of lessons the kids learn in this faithful day, not the least of which is that growing up is hard, regardless of background or race (had this movie been made today, the roles would be much more racially diverse). When you reflect on it, you realize why growing up is hard: You realize (especially in your teen years) that change is inevitable. In fact, as I typed that last sentence, my spotify playlist actually (for real) started playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a-changin’.” As Christians, it is always beyond refreshing to remember that God never changes. He is the same God as the one in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and will be the same long after this. True, another thing that does not change is humans having emotions. Perhaps the best thing the kids truly learn is how to express them in the right way: Not with negative actions but with talking it out with others.
The Breakfast Club brought a random idea to my head: I am writing this in the early stages of the year 2020, where our political climate is (to say the absolute least) tense. The blame game is everywhere, making more sense of Allison’s famous line “When you grow up, your heart dies.” Perhaps we need politicians (at least the main ones) to spend time alone in a room.
Obviously, this won’t solve all our problems right away, but it will show each of them that they are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.