Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), written by John Hughes, is a classic. Rumor has it that he wrote the screenplay in two days.
So much has been written about this screenplay (and film) over the years (here’s a really good article) that I’ll keep this analysis short. First, a quick primer on each character:
Ferris leads the screenplay. He’s a happy-go-lucky teenager. He starts Act 1 in his bed, feigning illness to avoid school… and ends in the exact same place. Frequently breaking the fourth wall, he shares life tricks and general advice, often explaining how he learned from others to come to certain conclusions.
Cameron, Ferris’ best friend, is depressed. It’s revealed that his parents fight and he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to his father. Although we do not witness the aftermath, by the end of the movie Cameron grows in confidence enough to stand up to his dad.
Sloane, Ferris’ girlfriend, to me, feels the least-developed of the characters. Sort of striking a middle ground between Ferris and Cameron; I got a general sense of ambivalence.
Jeanie is angry. She hates her brother Ferris and the fact that he can get away with everything. Like Cameron, by the end of the movie, she becomes team Ferris.
Philosophical Questions Raised
There are many prevalent themes in the screenplay: love, youth, depression, etc. These are represented very well.
But where I think the script really goes above and beyond is using characters to explore philosophical differences. Some (of the many) examples:
- Order (Rooney) vs. Chaos (Ferris) – Ferris couldn’t care less about school. Principal Rooney couldn’t care more. Both lay at the extremes: Ferris is at risk of repeating senior year while Rooney will go to any length to neutralize slackers like Ferris.
- Angst (Cameron) vs. Living in the Moment (Ferris) – A similar debate, but slightly different. Ferris sees how methodical Cameron is and chooses instead to simply live in the moment, which is shown in all of his impulsive/whimsical decisions.
- Glass Half Full (Ferris) vs. Glass Half Empty (Jeanie) – Jeanie can’t stand Ferris and thinks he should pay the price for his carefree living, while Ferris can’t stand high school life but makes the most of what he can (Example scene: Ferris searching his house for loose change).
And those simple debates, to me, is essentially what the screenplay is all about; one man’s perspective on how to live a good life. Is it realistic? Not exactly, because Ferris plays to the extremes (as most movie characters do). But it feels realistic. And the screenplay has strong messages for the younger generation who are always exploring those ideas.
An important point: As noted, Ferris breaks the fourth wall, often to share advice he has learned by analyzing the actions of others. In this way, Ferris’ views are elevated, he’s essentially sharing a persuasive speech. We may not agree with him, but we learn his code to living a fruitful life.
There’s so much more to this movie, but life moves pretty fast…