What is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” About?


John Hughes’ 80’s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off isn’t about Ferris Bueller. You’d think it is, since he’s the only one who’s allowed to break the fourth wall, but his role in the movie is the life of the party, the one who takes his friends to a eat at a restaurant, the one who takes them to an art museum, the one who lip-syncs “Twist and Shout” on a float in a parade. He takes yet another fake sick day during high school to make the most of the time he has before it’s over. He’s the over-the-top model of the message, but not its protagonist. That would be Cameron Frye, Ferris’ bedridden friend who’s called to be his partner in crime to escape school for another day. We can put ourselves in Cameron’s shoes as he asserts himself to Ferris when he’s a jerk to him, guilt-tripping him into helping him out, and taking his dad’s Ferrari to his objection. Cameron almost functions as a voice of reason, but when he supposedly puts his foot down, he always submits to Ferris’ antics in the end. Why does he do that? How does this make him the disguised protagonist? Why was the classic taken off Netflix on Halloween? Let’s answer these, except that last one, I’m afraid.

Throughout the entire A-plot of the movie, which follows Ferris, Cameron, and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane Peterson, Ferris takes his friends out for a day of fun in the city as mentioned, while avoiding getting discovered by his parents. It’s not until a certain point of the story where we learn something interesting about Sloane and Cameron’s outlook on their lives, and it’s during one relatively short conversation that inspired this article. During the scene where Ferris is lip-syncing on a float in a parade, his friends have a walk-and-talk where Cameron tells Sloane that Ferris has always been like this for as long as he’s known him: able to do anything. Cam in comparison feels he can’t handle anything, whether it be work, school, or parents. We get a window into the “parents” part from a line in an earlier scene when he says his father “loves his car, hates his wife,” and it’s mentioned in the original script that his parents fight a lot, even when Ferris is present. 

Back to the parade scene, it’s here that Cameron makes a lot more sense. He’s assertive to Ferris because he’s afraid of the consequences of their actions, but sticks with him as an escape from his overwhelming life. Ferris Bueller is as much an escape for Cameron as the movie is for us. Anyone with a life like Cameron’s would feel scared from time to time, and the original script also explains that’s why he always feels sick. But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is as much about him overcoming the fear that restricts him as it is about enjoying life while it lasts.

Another thing we see during the parade scene is Sloane and Cameron having a good chuckle over the fact that neither of them know what they’re going to do after High School. I think the reason why this all stood out to me is because it reminds me of what kind of place young adulthood is: a place where you know soon enough it’s time to go somewhere, but you don’t know where you’re going. The fear of the unknown couldn’t be bigger than that of an eighteen year-old.

The whole day, Cameron set aside his fear of his dad’s Ferrari getting mistreated in the parking lot to see what his best friend is up to, but once they get the car back from a couple garage attendants, he sees hundreds of miles have been added to the speedometer, and he loses his mind. His dad would lose it if he saw that someone else has driven the car he’s never driven, so any piece of mind Cameron possibly had left is shattered at this moment, and he’s left in a catatonic state. How much this breaks Cameron may seem over-the-top and almost comical, but this leads to an essential moment of his character arc. He realizes that he’s tired of constantly being afraid, worrying about everything, and wishing he were dead. It’s the best day of his life, he says. Though it takes jumping into his friend’s swimming pool to realize it. It’s here that we really understand how serious Cameron is, so what he’s been wanting to protect throughout the entire film, he decides to destroy, and with it his fear. When the miles on the speedometer of the Ferrari don’t come off while it’s running in reverse, he rejects the idea of rectifying the issue and decides to “take a stand” against his father, and unforgettably dents the car with his foot in a fit of rage.

 The story isn’t telling us to settle our disputes with our parents by destroying their prized possessions, so once the anger evaporates, Cameron accidentally pushes the Ferrari off its tether and flies in reverse out the window. Now it’s really destroyed. Ferris finally wants to take full responsibility for it to save him, but Cam has the important reaction, he takes the blame and he’s ready to have a chat with his dad when he comes home.

In order to make the most of life, you have to let go of the fear that restricts you. That’s how Ferris is the glorified model of it; he doesn’t turn back when he’s almost caught for using a fake identity at a fancy restaurant, he doesn’t turn back when he’s almost caught by his dad at said restaurant, and he doesn’t turn back from performing a lip-sync in front of hundreds of people. Not to say that he doesn’t get scared once, that’s a normal and unavoidable emotion, it’s about what you do with it that matters. That’s how the more traditional protagonist of the story, Cameron, is at a better place at the end of the movie than he was at the start: he’s finally at peace with himself.

Ferris says “life moves pretty fast, you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Accepting that you’re afraid and moving past it is how you keep going strong, and with just a little bit of help from another perspective—a friend—could help you not miss the magic of life. And that’s why Cameron is going to miss his friends next year. 

Categories: Entertainment

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