The Wisdom Of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986)
Another John Hughes Masterpiece
Image by L.E. Wilson from RedBubble based on work by Gianni Crestani on Pixabay
Writer, director, producer John Hughes was the epitome of American cinema in the 1980’s, delivering earnest, funny, truthful films full of meaning and wisdom. I’ve previously written about one of the greatest films ever, Pretty in Pink (1986), and here we explore the layers of Life Lessons embedded in another incredible movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) is a comedy written and directed by John Hughes about Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a high school senior who knows that time is running out to be with his friends and decides to skip school in order to enjoy a day with them.
Life Lesson: “Stop and smell the roses.”— Idiom
🍿Movie Scene Link (movie quote)
The movie starts with the words, “It is a beautiful day in Chicago today. Temperatures expected to reach the upper 70s.” Then Ferris, a high school senior faking an illness so he can skip school says, “how could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?” while views of puffy white clouds against a sunny blue sky appear on screen.
Life Lesson #1
When was the last time you looked up at the sky and appreciated its wonder and beauty?
Yes, faking an illness is a little bit childish and stupid, but then, so is high school, according to Ferris. And of course, he’s not wrong. In fact, what he says next is the main theme of the movie, the core Life Lesson it is trying to have you embrace, embody, and remember for all your days to come.
Life Lesson #2
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller
Then the fun begins.
Life Lesson #3
It’s not that I condone fascism, or any “ism,” for that matter. “Isms,” in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an “ism.” He should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon. “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.”
— Ferris Bueller
In other words, the way to make the world better is not to try to change others, or become a soldier or pawn in someone else’s fight, but rather to believe in yourself, your value, your worth, your rights—and behave accordingly. Here a quote from Steve Jobs seems fitting:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. — Steve Jobs
What happens when you don’t believe in yourself? Meet Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), the reason we’re here. Miserable, depressed, filled with angst, anger, fear, pessimism, and anxiety, Ferris’ best friend Cameron, a person who feels better when he’s sick, is the anti-Ferris, symbolizing the darkness of life. Sound familiar?
Life Lesson #4
You’re not dying. You just can’t think of anything good to do.
— Ferris Bueller
Contrast Cameron’s morose ennui with Ferris’ joy of living. How differently two people can experience the same sunny day is the insight being given to us in this movie, and it’s a similar message explored in an earlier essay, Are You “Socially Mad” Or “Capably Glad”?
But another enemy of a happy life is embodied by the Dean of Students at Ferris’ high school, Mr. Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who personifies the kind of people who try to control others and become vindictive, power-hungry, busybodies and killjoys in the process. How could that ever result in the greater good?
Mr. Rooney believes that Ferris is a threat to his authority because “he gives good kids bad ideas.” But actually Ferris is a threat to his authority because for the Dean of Students, “good kids” simply means kids he can control. Ferris is like Puck in Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and is more interested in liberating the kids to help them be happier, which is certainly not a priority for Mr. Rooney.
But what results from Mr. Rooney’s obsession with trying to catch Ferris so he can be punished for his impish, rule-breaking, unorthodox behavior? All that follows from Mr. Rooney being so hell-bent on vengeance is bad karma. His car gets towed, his pants ripped, his shoes damaged, he gets kicked, beaten up, and humiliated. Again, contrast his day to Ferris’ day on the same sunny morning. Could Mr. Rooney have made better, happier choices? Yes. Of course he could have. That’s the point of the movie.
Another character who makes the wrong choices is Cameron’s father, who hasn’t yet learned this lesson:
Life Lesson #5
Don’t prioritize material things over relationships.
Cameron: The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. Less than a hundred were made. My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love. It is his passion… Ferris, my father loves this car more than life itself.
Ferris: A man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile.
Then they take the Ferrari out for a drive, “Come on live a little” Ferris says to Cameron—and that they do.
Don’t you wish you had a Ferris Bueller to drag you into having a good time every now and then?
A car ride in a beautiful car on a beautiful day with your friends seeing new things exploring the world, dining at a fancy restaurant, going to a baseball game, visiting a museum and enjoying priceless works of art, participating in a parade singing and dancing. When was the last time you did any of that? Have you done any of that?
Do you know what you are doing when you wake up in the morning? Have you allowed yourself to have new experiences, new perspectives? Enjoying the craftsmanship of the finer things in life is a delight. It’s a joy. Have you tried seeking them out? Do you know how to live yet?
Life Lesson #6
You can never go too far.
— Ferris Bueller
To obtain ultimate freedom, you must deal with your fear. Or, as Ferris puts it, “Only the meek get pinched; the bold survive. […] If we played by the rules, we’d be in gym.” Being brave and daring is equivalent to joy.
Cameron: I realized it was ridiculous being afraid, worrying about everything, wishing I was dead. All that shit. I’m tired of it. […] I gotta take a stand. I’m bullshit. I put up with everything. My old man pushes me around. I never say anything! Well, he’s not the problem. I’m the problem. I gotta take a stand. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not gonna sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it. […] I’m just tired of being afraid.
For the first time in his life, he’s going to be just fine.
There is a third force that gets in the way of happiness, and that is demonstrated by Ferris’ sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), who represents the kind of person who is bitter, resentful, jealous, and easily driven to hostility toward others, particularly those who seem more successful. This is just negative energy upon negative energy. And where does this lead her? To the same dark place filled with bad karma as Mr. Rooney. She gets into trouble with her parents and the police. Her sunny day is spent in anger, aggravated, full of spite. Again, could she have made better, happier choices?
Or, are you just torturing yourself like Cameron?
Is your problem—you?
Jeanie meets a boy (Charlie Sheen) at the police station who sets her straight, “You ought to spend a little more time dealing with yourself, a little less time worrying about what your brother does,” he tells her. Isn’t that good advice? Wouldn’t the whole world be a happier place if more people dealt with themselves, bettered themselves, learned new skills, and spent less time worrying about what other people do?
That’s what Ferris does, and everything works out for him, as it could for you. There is nothing he can’t handle, which is true of you as well. He can do anything, and so can you.
On their day off from school Ferris and his friends discover more about the world than they would have locked away in a school building all day, and we get to go on the ride along with them. In so doing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off becomes a celebration of life, particularly aimed at those who feel they haven’t seen anything good today. Simply put, this movie is a gift, and you should watch it.
You’re still here?
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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From: Jainism, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reincarnation
“Actions and emotions in the current lifetime affect future incarnations depending on the nature of the particular karma. For example, a good and virtuous life indicates a latent desire to experience good and virtuous themes of life. Therefore, such a person attracts karma that ensures that their future births will allow them to experience and manifest their virtues and good feelings unhindered. In this case, they may take birth in heaven or in a prosperous and virtuous human family. On the other hand, a person who has indulged in immoral deeds, or with a cruel disposition, indicates a latent desire to experience cruel themes of life. As a natural consequence, they will attract karma which will ensure that they are reincarnated in hell, or in lower life forms, to enable their soul to experience the cruel themes of life.”
Wonderful flick and insightful review. I especially love the ending when, if I remember correctly, Ferris breaks the fourth wall. Worth the wait. I think he even does it after the credits? Have to check that. Such a clever and,in ways you show, a wise screenplay.