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Stream and mountains

Why these John Hughes movies are better leaders than our politicians

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

By Alessia Anderson

It’s safe to say that American filmmaker John Hughes has developed quite a legacy for himself. From the Breakfast Club to Home Alone and even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hughes has blessed the big screen with outstanding, ahead of his time cinematic masterpieces. Their layered metaphorical messages and accusations on society are topics often untouched. And yet, nearly 40 years on, these daring movies have more relevance and influence than ever. Therefore, I think it’s safe to say, John Hughes is a leader. A unique leader. A leader that isn’t afraid to tackle the big misconducts of our world and present it to all demographics in a digestible and thought-provoking format. So, let me present to you, three of his most renowned movies, which are leaders in their own format.

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club, which premiered in Los Angeles on February 7, 1985, is regarded as a seminal film exploring a compendium of the anxieties, confusion and joys of teenage existence. The force of the film comes from its reduced simplicity. Five students are remanded to detention in the library of their high school one Saturday. They each represent a stereotype: John Bender (Nelson) is the bad boy, Claire Standish (Ringwald) is the rich society girl, Andrew Clark (Estevez) is the jock, Brian Johnson (Hall) is a nerd and Allison Reynolds (Sheedy) is the weirdo. Hughes' screenplay, in addition to being full of memorable scenes, adeptly distils the way kids decimate one another into a few terse lines of dialogue or even a withering glance. Bender's mockery of his weaker and less cool peers is under-girded by his humiliation at being poor; Claire's smug superiority at being one of the upper-class set is laid low by how easily the others pinpoint her self-absorption. Each character is prey to his or her own specific brands of insecurity and stress, and the story makes it clear that one of the tragedies of their lives is the degree to which all of this is externally imposed, especially by their parents. Overall, The Breakfast Club is seen as a constant reminder of the possibility of life, an acknowledgement of human potential that each new wave of high school kids takes up as it passes through those years, reminding the rest of us of its existence. It is a leader.

Ferris Buller’s Day Off

Ferris Buller’s Day Off (1990), has a light-hearted plot line, with deep symbolism that reaches toward the ecstatic power of teendom and, at the same time, exposes the true, piercing woe of that age. I needn’t labor the basic plot—kid fakes being sick, outwits dopey grownups, gallivants around Chicago with pals – the real magic is in the character who achieves freedom when he chooses to disregard his self-created problems. He conveys teen imprisonment: boredom, bewilderment, homicidal intent, while similarly showing the struggle between pleasure and anxiety. By definition, the adults in a Hughes’ film are beyond hope of transformation. But it is his central and rescuing belief that teens are capable of change—even the ones who seem to be stock characters. Hughes remarkably used a plethora of techniques not becoming common til decades later: direct addresses to the camera, on-screen graphics, the prominent use of background songs to create de facto music videos, the sudden exhilarating blur of fantasy and reality. More than this, though, Hughes performed an astounding ontological feat. He lured viewers into embracing his film as an escapist farce, then hit them with a pitch-perfect exploration of teen angst. Overall, the movie has a powerful and unexpected message on age, summarised in Ferris’ mantra that bookends the film which continues to be the truest element from the movie: “Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles, John Hughes’ first feature film that he directed, is a 1984 American coming-of-age comedy exploring “the time of your life that may last a lifetime”. This bittersweet movie traces the hopes and disappointments of a host of incidental but memorable characters, from a hapless Japanese exchange student to a prom queen and a posse of barely pubescent nerds. It entails various strata of young America who overcome their rigid hierarchies, setting the stage for resolutions both tender and torrid. The synopsis it quite familiar, possibly because most modern rom-coms have adapted their plot to extend upon it: with the occasion all but overshadowed by her sister's upcoming wedding, angst-ridden Samantha faces her 16th birthday with typical adolescent dread. Samantha pines for older boy Jake, but worries that her chastity will be a turnoff for the popular senior. Meanwhile, Samantha must constantly rebuff the affections of nerdy Ted, the only boy in the school, unfortunately, who seems to take an interest in her. Overall, its timeless tag line, “It's the time of your life that may last a lifetime. When you're just sixteen anything can happen!” encourages adolescents to fulfill their potential and embrace this often tumultuous yet exciting stage in their life. It builds upon high school stereotypes, yet involves so much more and teaches all to follow their heart.

In summary, John Hughes’ movies, and their deep analysis into teen struggles with expectations, ageing and stereotypes makes his work truly unique and timeless. He is a leader, not just to his generation, but to us in the modern day. The only question is, who at present parallels his ingenious? I struggle to think of any movie makers today that mirror the deep symbolism and metaphors he integrates into his work. Or possibly there are people such as Hughes today that are leaders, but project their energy into different areas such as business or music? Possibly. Nevertheless, it is safe to say he is unique, and his extraordinary legacy will not be forgotten.


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