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Rebel Without a Care

Spending a Day Off with Ferris Bueller.
By  · Published on June 30th, 2016

It’s easy to not take Ferris Bueller’s Day Off too seriously. After all, the movie has among the more simplistic plotlines of the 80s; opting to focus on a character brazenly unlettered by responsibility over an elaborate story structure. Not to mention the notion of exerting time and effort into dissecting king slacker Ferris Bueller is about as antithetical as it gets.

However, for all his seemingly one-note aversion to anything lacking in fun, Ferris Bueller is an extremely fascinating character. His words and deeds have throughout the last three decades seen his legacy ping-pong between lauds of serving as a hero to the unmotivated and decries of being a reprehensibly selfish brat who jeopardizes not only his own but also his friends’ futures with his antics.

And then there is that oh so intriguing, if ultimately entirely flawed, theory suggesting Ferris Bueller is nothing more than a figment of lonely, depressed Cameron Frye’s imagination. In this context, Ferris represents the confident, fearless, popular guy whom Cameron has always longed to be. Ferris, the projection, is unhindered by Cameron’s fears, insecurities, and family turmoil and therefore Cameron lives vicariously through his fictive friend’s exploits. Doesn’t hold water, but it’s fun to chew on.

At Junkfood Cinema, we have crafted our own estimation of the serially truant Ferris. To put it as politely as we can given the medium of internet discourse, the recontextualization of Ferris Bueller as a near-sociopathic manipulator with selfish disregard for his friends is garbage. In fact, the key to understanding Ferris’ reasons for pushing Cameron into complicity in his (let’s face it) minor transgressions is actually Charlie Sheen’s cameo as a jailhouse burnout. The full context of this character, which was truncated in the editing booth, explains so much as to why Ferris will not allow Cameron to wallow in his self-medicated misery.

Moreover, Ferris is a subtly reactionary character; a product of his time. Ferris’ self-indulgent thrill-seeking, during which he flirts with excess, is an internal rebellion against the inevitable imprisonment of the Regan-era conservative ideal. Ferris knows his future revolves around the house in the suburbs, the 2.5 children, and the various other trappings of the middle class cliche. We have talked several times on the show about how the films of the 1980s fetishized the 1950s, which may in fact have been part and parcel of Regan’s attempts to move the country to post-war Eisenhower moral/societal norms.

Ferris isn’t leading a movement, he rebels by having fun. He’s therefore less Peter Fonda and more James Dean.

For full waxing on these theories, feel free to download and listen to this week’s entry into the Junkfood Cinema One Junky Summer podcast series.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.