Ferris Bueller's Day Off is an iconic teen / young adult movie from the 1980's. Watching the movie again on telly last night I was pleased to see that middle age has not dimmed my appreciation. Certainly the film does not have the level of polish that we have become used to a quarter of a century later and the script seems to wander a bit in places but Bueller remains a multi-layered delight. Indeed watching the movie again with adult eyes I realised that it not even clear who the real hero of the movie is.
The obvious choice is Bueller himself of course, the teen wonder who bends the adult world to his whim and who can do no wrong. Of all the major characters however Bueller is probably the least well fleshed out. There is little exploration of his emotions or motivations and he is really more of a symbol than a fully developed character. On top of that is the fact that Ferris is not a very likeable hero. He comes across as manipulative and selfish. He is down right abusive towards his supposed best friend Cameron dragging him from his sick bed and forcing him to steal his father's car. There is a suggestion at the end of the movie that this was all a deliberate ploy to force Cameron into confronting his relationship with life in general and his parents in particular but I am not convinced. I don't really like Ferris Bueller and I wouldn't like to be his friend.
Cameron himself is actually a far more sympathetic character and is a good candidate for the real hero. He is certainly the character who changes most during the movie. At the beginning he is no more than Bueller's flunkie, afraid of life and afraid of his parents. By the end of the movie he has deliberately damaged his fathers beloved Ferrari in order to force a confrontation. He is also a generally likeable guy with a dry sense of humour. I do think it is a pity though that he doesn't use some of his new found backbone to tell Ferris where to get off.
Bueller's girlfriend Sloan is certainly pretty to look at but she plays a lesser part than Cameron. Her best bits are actually her dealings with Cameron and she does show considerable empathy and concern for his difficulties. I am actually quite surprised that she didn't ditch Ferris for Cameron at the end of the movie. Ferris is a myth, Cameron is a real guy learning to cope with life as best he can. He is also a nice decent bloke and would be a far more adult choice of boyfriend than Ferris. This is fundamentally a teen movie though and the young characters are not required to grow up outside of Cameron himself.
Bueller's long suffering sister Jeanie is another good candidate for hero (heroine?). She is a real girl forced to live in the shadow of her god-like brother. While he gets away with the most outrageous schemes she must deal with the consequences. It is most telling how she isn't very surprised when she ends up being arrested for making a legitimate complaint to the police about an intruder. Jeanie is also responsible for the most heroic moment of the entire film when she finally get the opportunity to catch Ferris out and instead decides to rescue him.
The only well developed adult character is Principal Ed Rooney. Being the villain of the piece he is not an obvious choice for hero but looking back now from my middle aged perspective I am not so sure. Ed is not a bad or dislikeable guy. He is just an ordinary bloke trying to do his job who hopelessly underestimates the forces he is up against. He fails miserably and humiliatingly. Nevertheless he is not crushed. He picks himself up, grits his teeth and soldiers on. The closing credits sequence where a dishevelled car-less Rooney endures the ignominy of a school bus ride full of obnoxious kids in is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
So who is the real hero? I'll give you three options:
For the under fifteens: Ferris
For the under Thirties: Cameron
For the over thirties: Principal Ed Rooney.
Next week we ask the question: Is Samwise Gamjee is the real hero of Lord of the Rings?