It only takes the first notes of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds to awaken everyone’s melancholy feelings of high school. This is owing no doubt to its appearance in John Hughes’ ‘The Breakfast Club’ which, released in 1985, is now thirty five years old. Let that sink in for a bit. Hailed as a cult classic, one might wonder what makes it still so relevant today. What draws us to the story? What makes ‘The Breakfast Club’ unlike any other teenage 80s film?
Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) opens the film with a monologue: “Dear Mr. Vernon. We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed.” Brian’s monologue is a brilliant method to introduce the plot, set the mood and tone of the story and foreshadow both the characters’ personalities and the events of the day that will change their lives forever, referring back to his statement “we were brainwashed”. In ninety seven minutes, the characters develop remarkably, initially very much “stuck” in their own cliques before having a heartfelt talk during which the real reasons for their attending detention are revealed. In other words, they push each other to reveal their private issues and break the façade they put on whenever they enter the school building.
‘The Breakfast Club’ tackles the concept of humanity still struggling with identity, good and bad, right and wrong, and that we, as a society, still categorize people according to first impressions and rumours. Its origins nonetheless are blurry: do we start it ourselves in high school, or is it society that inflicts these stereotypes on us before we are even aware of them? Is it a necessary development in order to find ourselves?
This concept is further developed by sociologist Erwin Goffman. His theory ‘We All Play Theatre’, explained in his work ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, refers to our tendency to act in a certain way around people in order to fit in, adjusting according to our environment, be it at work or with our best friends. This is perfectly epitomized by ‘The Breakfast Club’ characters, who feel the need to fulfill the stereotype the world views them as. In other words, as Brian perfectly puts it, their headmaster Mr. Vernon “sees [them] how he wants to see [them]”. For instance, Bender is seen as a criminal because he smokes, carries a switchblade (fun fact: it actually belonged to Judd Nelson) and is often in detention, but the others soon see that he comes from an abusive home, takes out his frustration on others and is in fact tired of the stereotypical system himself. Another interesting parallel to draw in this respect is between ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Legally Blonde’. Legally Blonde’s pivotal quote “all people see when they look at me is blonde hair and big boobs” perfectly showcases this concept of categorizing people according to looks and outside behaviour. And yet, Elle Woods proves everybody wrong, getting a degree in law at one of the most prestigious universities in the USA. ‘The Breakfast Club’ beautifully portrays the infinite number of combinations between stereotypes, and the absence of moulds into which people simply fit. After that fateful detention day, the five students no longer see each other as just ‘a type’. They have had a chance to connect and learn about each other’s backgrounds, realizing that they all have something in common. Fans debate whether they will greet each other Monday morning – the song refers to this with “Will you recognize me? Call my name?” – but the ultimate message is that they will not forget about each other because they have developed a bond.
‘The Breakfast Club’ remains an iconic, cult movie. The characters and story are relatable for the simple reason that, just like them, we are all thrown into this world and have to find our way. There are ups and downs, bad days at school, a teacher you don’t get along with, family problems and peer pressure. By the end of Saturday though, ‘The Breakfast Club’ clique discover each other and themselves, break free of their stereotypes and try to keep going, leaving the building with new expectations, fists raised to the sky.
Edited by Juliette Howard, Film Editor