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Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

(R-L) Alan Ruck, Mia Sara and Matthew Broderick in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)image curtesy of Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off holds a special place in my heart. It is a movie that I could watch a hundred times and it never gets old. It is the definition of a comfort movie for me. For as much as I want to be the carefree Ferris (played by Matthew Broderick), I find myself leaning towards the anxious ticking time bomb that is Cameron Frye (played by Alan Ruck), constantly feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as I implode into myself. When I first watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I was just becoming self-aware of my struggle with anxiety and what anxiety is. As much as I wanted to hate Ferris, I couldn’t help but be envious of a person who had it all figured out. Somehow it just all worked out in the end. 

One of the first and last lines Ferris famously says is, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The entire film centers around this one line. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film that reminds us that nothing is the end all be all; life happens but we just roll with it. If we are constantly thinking about having it all figured out, then we miss all of the in-between. It is a lesson that Cameron has to learn. It is also something I need to be reminded of from time to time. Learning to breathe when your thoughts are constantly rushing, you miss the moments that make life worthwhile. You miss the sway of the trees, the trip you take to a new city, or playing hooky with your best friends. 

In any other film made by any other director, Cameron Frye and Ferris Bueller would be the typical straight-man/wild-and-crazy-guy duo. It would just be a silly teen flick where Cameron learns to loosen the tie and Ferris learns to straighten up a bit. That isn’t the case here at all. Cameron is not just the straight man to Ferris’ larger-than-life care-free personality. He is a teenager who is consumed by anxiety, he is insecure and depressed. He is someone who the audience can relate to whereas Ferris is someone we can learn from. Ferris doesn’t have any development, he is happy just as is. He already figured out life’s secret and how to not take it so seriously. 

Cameron was someone at the time I related to and Ferris was someone I needed to learn from. I once was a high school student who felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, like Cameron. Having to make big life decisions while also having to appease the parental figures in my life. Constantly feeling like every mistake would be life-altering. Ferris moves through the film teaching us that life is not as serious. Mistakes are meant to be made and it’s fine to just breathe. 

(R-L) Mia Sara, Alan Ruck and Matthew Broderick in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)image curtesy of Paramount Pictures
(R-L) Mia Sara, Alan Ruck and Matthew Broderick in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986) image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The opening moments introduce us to Ferris Bueller, a high school senior who couldn’t possibly be bothered with school on a beautiful day. He convinces his parents that he is too ill to go to school.  It is a pathetic bare minimum performance. Once they are convinced and leave the room there is a mild disappointment. He couldn’t believe such a lack of effort fooled them. As he rises from the bed, speaking to the audience you are fully aware of who he is. He is a charming person: everyone loves him and only looks after what brings him happiness. 

Once alone, he calls his best friend, Cameron, who lies in bed believing he is dying. Cameron is crippled by his anxiety to the point it manifests in physical symptoms that make him feel ill. Ferris demands Cameron’s presence. However, Cameron just cannot find it within himself to leave his bed. Ferris eventually tells Cameron, “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.” Ferris wasn’t wrong, he wasn’t dying however, when you are deep in your worried mind, it feels like you are. There is nothing to motivate you and yet, you somehow persist. Cameron ends up getting in his car and heading to Ferris. 

Once united, they pull another famous creative stunt to get Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), out of school. It’s a stunt that involves a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder belonging to Cameron’s father. We learn through Cameron that his father cares more about that car than his flesh and blood. Cameron begs that they just use his car but Ferris insists that to pull off their antics, they use the classic car.

All together now, the threesome galavant along the streets of Downtown Chicago. Cameron is not completely on board with his friend’s endeavors to have the best day ever but he isn’t putting up too much of a fight. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is filled with a lot of memorable snapshots, a true love letter to the city of Chicago. One of the more iconic scenes happens at The Art Institute of Chicago. A scene where Ferris roams around with Sloane with this childlike wonder meanwhile Cameron stares into the soul of George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. It is a moment where although Cameron is not speaking or reacting—he is imploding. Writer/director John Hughes says it is a moment where Cameron is filled with the most fear. The more he looks into the paint, the more nothing he sees. Cameron fears that people see nothing in him. He fears that he is nothing. 

For Cameron, the anxiety of not knowing has been eating at him. Cameron’s mind is never quiet, it continues to fill with several anxieties. However, at this moment, his main concern is getting back to the car. If he could just get back to his father’s car, he would be able to quiet some of the noise. Ferris wants him to slow down and appreciate the day. When you get older, slowing down and appreciating a day are far and few between. There are moments where our minds are more preoccupied with other worries we tend to miss out on some of the greatest moments of our lives. Ferris is concerned that Cameron is constantly too preoccupied that he misses out on the perfect day. In the heat of the moment when having a conversation about the car, Cameron says that he has not seen anything good all day. Ferris somewhat takes offense to it. 

One of the most memorable moments in the film comes when they end up in the middle of the German street parade. Ferris has disappeared, and Cameron is upset with Ferris’ selfishness. In a distance, both Cameron and Sloane hear Ferris dedicate a song to his friend who feels he hasn’t seen anything good all day. As Ferris breaks into song, Cameron and Sloane are having a conversation about the future. It is a moment where Cameron opens up about his admiration for Ferris being able to handle anything. Cameron finally opens up about how he doesn’t know what he wants to do after high school. Sloane mentions that he would go off to college, but Cameron does not know what he would want to do because he isn’t interested in anything. 

When you are eighteen and have an entire life ahead, it is overwhelming to figure it all out. There is this immense amount of pressure to figure it out. The thing no one tells you is that life is constantly keeping you on your toes. Sometimes the plan never works out the way it is supposed to. Sometimes we change, what we want to do today isn’t necessarily what we want to do tomorrow. It was a great release for Cameron to say the words out loud that he has no idea about and have someone be receptive to that. It was just a scene prior that Cameron allowed himself to implode at the fear that he was nothing. Admitting his fear to someone else and having them admit a similar feeling was validating to him. Not only does Sloane offer an ear to Cameron in this conversation, but she admits she also has an interest in nothing and has no idea what she wants to do. What we forget at that age is that we are not alone with our feelings. Even the person who we think has it all figured out feels the same way. 

(R-L) Alan Ruck and Matthew Broderick in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)image curtesy of Paramount Pictures
(R-L) Alan Ruck and Matthew Broderick in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986) image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

It is assumed that Ferris doesn’t think about his anxieties. We never see him talk directly about them with his best friend or girlfriend. He has portrayed himself as a guy who can push boundaries with zero consequences. However, he keys the audience in when breaking the fourth wall that he too also feels anxious. Cameron becomes paralyzed by fear and anxiety having seen the miles that were put on his father’s car. It is a moment where Ferris feels remorse for his actions knowing that the consequences his friend will face are great and his fault. He turns to the camera and begins to express his human emotions. He also feels a sense of aimlessness about the future and fears the separation of his core group. It is as if “his power” is from them. The stability of having these two constants in his life, he knows all will be okay. It is a moment of vulnerability and relatability that you don’t get throughout the film. He proves to the audience that even the guy who seemingly has it all figured out has his moments of doubt. 

Cameron admits on a few occasions that he fears the wrath of his father. It is a looming layer to his anxiety around getting the car back home. However, in a moment of clarity when they get back to Cameron’s, he decides to take responsibility for what happens with the car. Ferris also offers to take the full blame for everything that happened but Cameron insists on facing the music. He decides to not only face his fears but also it is a moment of realization for Cameron. He realizes that life will continue to have moments where he has to face the music but the moment will pass. He finally understands that it is okay to allow one moment to happen at a time. The memories he created on this day with his two friends will always be the fonder memory. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a timeless classic from Hughes, a director who truly tapped into human experiences. He was able to give us stories that were grounded and relatable. They held up mirrors to the audience, allowing them to be seen while offering a comforting hug. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off reminds us to relax, the anxieties of tomorrow are not worth the time they take up today.

As the film ends, Ferris leaves us with a simple philosophy that encompasses it all,  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Written by Chelsea Alexandra

Chelsea is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast and will talk to anyone who will listen about her favorite movies. She enjoys drinking a late night coffee that will keep her up all night and explaining why Armageddon (1998) is one of her favorite films.

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