The Breakfast Club changed my life, and this is not fuzzy nostalgia hyperbole talking. It mattered to me like few films ever have, immediately and for good, and it still does.
The movie was released 29 years ago this February, but the detention at the heart of the film happened a year earlier, on March 24, 1984. Yes. Bender, Brian, Claire, Andrew and Allison were in detention at the hands of Principal Richard Vernon 30 years ago.
Here’s Anthony Michael Hall’s voiceover as the “brain” Brian Johnson at the beginning of the movie, as the kids arrived at the suburban high school:
Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois. 60062.
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 how we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.
What ensues is 97 minutes of teenagers from different social groups, socioeconomic classes, academic tracks, and levels of personal awareness hooking up, fighting, accepting the limitations of social hierarchies, and the exhilaration of breaking it.
The top of my head still tingles just thinking about it. I can’t believe that all of those feelings were contained in 97 minutes of screentime.
I was 14 years old when The Breakfast Club was released, and I had never seen anything like this. I was immediately obsessed with the movie and adopted it immediately as mine — my movie — MINE. I saw it in the theater multiple times and scrounged up the VHS tape, playing it over and over on the television. I will even admit for the record that I made a hash mark with a pencil in my diary every time I watched it. I haven’t looked at that in a long time and don’t remember the total, but let’s just say there are a lot of hash marks in my Precious Moments diary, where I also ranked the boys I knew by number of hearts. When people say now that they’ve got “all the feelings,” I don’t think that’s the case for me because I left the majority of mine on the altar of this film before I even turned 15. (Whatever was left over got scraped up for John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, which is another post for another anniversary.)
I really don’t think I’d go back to being a teenager for any amount of money. Too much of all the feelings, but at least sometimes when a movie or a song handed them to me, it felt like someone understood. From the David Bowie “Changes” lyric at the beginning of the movie — “And these children that you spit on/As they try to change their worlds/Are immune to your consultations/They’re quite aware of what they’re going through” — to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which turned into a teenaged ode to doomed, transient friendships — to Judd Nelson’s hot mess of a hot, troubled, boy whose home life needed me, just me, not Molly Ringwald to make it better — it was all here.
Living smack in the middle of the ’80s was, for a kid like me, to live in a land of the exploding medium of music videos and their increasing morphing into the films that mattered to me. Good music and a storyline lifted straight out of a sharper, better-written after-school special made my life. The Breakfast Club meshed the soundtrack and the fundamental sense of teenaged isolation and ostracism that I ate for, yes, breakfast — and served it up with a couple of hot guys I couldn’t choose between, a girl I would have been terrified of, a girl I was terrified that I already was, and the physics club geek who would have been my best friend. The dialogue showed they got me. It showed that they were me — a little bit of each of them projected all over my not-at-all-similar life in a suburban Washington, D.C., all-girls’ Catholic high school, where I never got one single detention, let alone one this epic.
(For what it’s worth, by the time I made it to senior year and college, I was solidly a John Bender girl.)
Much has gone down in my life in the 30 years since I first sat down in a theater and met John Bender, Andrew Clark, Claire Standish, Allison Reynolds, and Brian Johnson, plus Principal Vernon and Carl the janitor (an underrated supporting player in ’80s teen cinema, if you ask me.) So much is different, but I can apply the following to more life situations than one would imagine now that I’ve hit my early 40s.
“Okay Bender, the next screw that falls out is gonna be you.”
“Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.”
“Yes, I always carry this much $8@t in my bag.”
“So it’s sorta sad. Demented and sad, but social. Right?”
And on and on and on. Brian’s broken shop class lamp, Andrew’s devastating fear of failing as an athlete, Allison’s step out from behind the “basket case” pose into a mildly forced but still sweet bonding over eyeliner with Claire, Bender’s whole juvenile delinquent/heart of gold gig. It still holds up in my mind even though I don’t watch it on repeat anymore these days. That’s mostly because I really don’t have to. It’s all in there, better in the retelling. In my adolescent fantasies, Bender and Claire, and Andrew and Allison beat the odds and found love forever. Brian wasn’t disappointed on Monday morning when one or all of them unfailingly snubbed him in the hallway.
John Hughes’ sudden death from a heart attack five years ago left behind a generation of mourning Gen-Xers and a trove of movies that defined so much of who so many of us were. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink — pick one and it resonates. It’s one of our favorites.
The Breakfast Club was mine. I’m sure if I looked back at it too hard, I’d see cracks. I’d wonder what was up with parts of it that looked worn in places where it never did before, because that’s what happens upon repeated examination, especially after 30 years.
Or in some very special, very important cases, it can just glow the same. It can do what it did, it can be what it was. That’s the tack I’m taking in the case of the story of five suburban Illinois teenagers who had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was they did wrong — plus one more, and then another, for asking Mr. Vernon here if Barry Manilow knew he raided his wardrobe. Thanks for taking one for our team, guys. Even as my memory fades for certain things, I will never, ever, forget about you.
Dear Mr. Vernon:
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain. And an athlete. And a basket case. A princess. And a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.
Image credit: Amazon