Top 10 Movies: #9 – The Breakfast Club

I’m revealing my Generation X origins with my pick for 9th best movie, 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Without letting director John Hughes off the hook for “crimes” such as the casual racism and sexism of the previous year’s Sixteen Candles, in this film he truly spoke for a generation’s desire to break out of the roles predefined by society, and to come together as genuine human beings across boundaries of class and clique.

The story of five kids with nothing in common, except a shared stint in Saturday School detention, the film tracks them from their initial dismissal of each other based on stereotypes and labels, through their coming together against a common enemy (represented by the dismissive, sarcastic, burnt-out detention monitor, Mr. Vernon), to their final pledge of a friendship that each swears to take forward into the wider world, even against that world’s pressures and disapproval.

Unusually, for a movie, The Breakfast Club largely respects Aristotle’s classical unities of the theater, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

  • unity of action: a play should have one action that it follows, with minimal subplots.
  • unity of time: the action in a play should occur over a period of no more than 24 hours.
  • unity of place: a play should exist in a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.

Together, the three unities lend the film a sense of heightened realism and intensity, since you live through the action with the characters, nearly at the same pace that they do.

Autobiographically speaking, this was the first “R” rated movie I ever saw. Ironically, I first saw it at school –which speaks to the different mores and values of the era. I can’t imagine any movie with such explicitly anti-authoritarian themes being screened in today’s educational environment (particularly given the scene where the kids gleefully smoke pot on school property –take that, Nancy Reagan!).  At the time, as a socially outcast cross between the movie’s “weirdo” and “nerd” characters, I experienced the film as a powerfully liberating experience (although I always resented that the nerd was the only main character to not be paired with a romantic partner at the end). Even today, much closer in age to the the teacher than the kids, the film’s basic existential humanist message still rings true to me –you are more than the person other people try to force you to be.

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