Thursday, May 9, 2013

The dystopic future of The Breakfast Club

The dystopic future of The Breakfast Club (1985)

I was one of those teens who saw the Breakfast Club as a film about the teen experience in the 1980s for the longest time, until I was given a chance to reconsider the film and it’s message.

Set in the Midwest suburban wasteland of the 1980s it’s the story of five teen criminals who are sentenced to be locked together in a high school/ prison and engage in a kind of lord of the flies (metaphorically) encounter group that is meant to show that they are all human.

Instead what happens is that the division of labor, love and class is redirected, restructured and each of the criminals find that as long as they fulfill their role they can continue to be a cog in the machine. They also find that if they change... their pairings they can be fixed and their rough edges can be sanded down….

Our prisoners are:

Judd Nelson as John Bender The Thug
The bad boy thug, the kind of guy that’s headed for a high security prison, the kind where bad things happen in the shower.. the kind of things that are worse that what happen in the showers in high school. And the shower antics at this high school are nothing to sneeze as, as the jock describes in vivid detail the quasi-homophobic physical assault that landed him in Saturday detention as being something akin to horseplay. Would our thug have gotten detention for committing the same act? I think not the bitter aging baby boomer fascist running to the detention would have surely sent the thug to jail.

Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish
The 1%er who couldn’t buy her way out of what ever her crime was.  She’s clearly so obsessed with her status that she has lost the ability to see or empathies with those around her who lack her money, her looks and her access to the “Good Life”. She’s the kind who can’t see she’s part of a group and refuses to care about others.

Emilio Estevez as Andrew "Andy" Clark
The Jock is the kind of mindless muscle head that he makes clear is following he example of his father.  He’s the kind of guy who bullies people and rapes people without any consequences. He’s the elite hero type who can get away with his crimes with just a slap on the wrist as long and he can physically dominate his peers.  He finds himself up against the arty/freak girl and the implication is that they domesticate each other.

Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds
The smart funny arty basketcase who is only there to give voice to an ‘Outsider”, she’d a danger to everyone and herself. She’s got issues and she’s headed for the grave… that is until she meets the Jock, who inspires her to pretty herself up and change for the acceptance of the fascist status conscious jock. Her salvation is by getting the approval of a member of the status quo (just like Annie Potts in Pretty in Pink who goes from punk doll to a yuppie, re enforcing the notion that selling out will make you happy). She’s the artist who needs a conventional man to save her… and yet she’s isn’t the most problematic of the character types.

Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson
The brain, the geek, the smartest of the group. He’s the one that no one expects to be there as he cares too much about his future and doing the right thing… only he’s been so dehumanized by the system that his failure in a shop class has caused him to contemplate killing himself.  He’s not a real person to everyone else. There is a whole discussion in the film about who would talk to him in the hallways—and it’s made clear that he has something the others want, his work… and maybe he’s gonna get to be treated like a real person if he just completes their work. This is a theme that reoccurs in other films including Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. It’s a lame role, one that actor Anthony Michael Hall disliked so much that his next notable film role (discounting Weird Science which came out of the same year) was in Tim Burton’s Edward Sissorhands where he played the… Jock Thug…

Lastly we have the warden, Paul Gleason as Richard "Dick" Vernon, the school assistant principal, a typical Baby Boomer Thug who uses tactics on the Gen Xers under his control in ways that his generation never stood for. He’s angry, aging and taking out his frustrations on the charges he’s tasked with monitoring… only he takes off, accesses personnel files of co-workers and generally avoids doing his job. He’s unethical; he’s a psycho who is no educator. He’s the like so many of his generation… he couldn’t care less about the kids he’s in charge of after all, they are not his and they are a challenge to his youth. I get the impression that he would have been happy set them loose in the school Battle Royal style…

All of which is to say…. The Breakfast Club is a rotting pile of 80s groupthink that wallows in the belief that it is positive,  that it humanizes teen archetypes,  that it treats teens like people and that it’s thee reflection of an time long gone.

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