Guest Post: Still Learning Lessons From Ferris Bueller

Happy Monday all!

As you’re reading this, I’m likely hanging out in downtown Chicago with my best friend, enjoying the hot and sticky Summer day in the Windy City. So what’s more appropriate than a post from a movie set in that exact spot? Special thanks to Nick from Cinema Romantico for his awesome contribution!

I moved to Chicago seven years ago this month and spent my first few weeks surfing on my friend’s couch, checking out my new north side neighborhood and availing myself of the seemingly endless sites downtown (and seeing movies). Only one conclusion could be reached: ‘tis a beautiful city and I was in love with it. Even when I re-started working 40 hours a week I was still in the midst of my affair and vividly remember telling my friend that I even enjoyed the packed, sweaty train rides home because I felt like all us passengers were one family united in our joyous relief of surviving another work day. My friend’s cold reply: “Yeah. You’ll get over that.” And I did. Quickly. I also vividly recall the first time I left my office on Michigan Avenue and no longer gave a flip that I was on Michigan Avenue. Even now when I walk to the train from my new office in the West Loop I consistently forget and only occasionally remember to remind myself of the fact that I’m passing 333 Wacker Drive – that is, the comely curved building where Ferris Bueller’s dad was employed.

The most common charge leveled against John Hughes’ 1985 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is that its title character is static, as in he undergoes no type of discernible change, that he is exactly the same person at the end that he is at the beginning. And this is entirely fair and totally accurate. In fact, the mantra he recites very near the start are the same lines he uses to close the film – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop once in awhile and look around, you might miss it.” Which is to say his worldview is not altered. Therefore this often leads directly to the argument that Ferris’s best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) is ACTUALLY the main character because he is the one character who undergoes a true transformation, morphing from the scaredy cat under the covers with emotional health problems manifesting themselves as the flu to the supreme dissident (he wears a Detroit Red Wings jersey in downtown Chicago) taking a stand by kicking in the fender of his father’s car and sending it off into the symbolic ether.

But what if – to quote Al Pacino in The Insider – we look through the looking glass the other way? What if Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is as much an Instructional Video as it is a piece of fiction? What if Cameron Frye is the audience surrogate, what if he is us, and Ferris Bueller is the anthem on the car radio prodding us to sing along? And that, of course, brings us right along to perhaps the film’s most famed sequence, the Twist and Shout sing along in the midst of the German-American Parade on Dearborn.

How do we get to this scene? Well, it starts earlier in the cab that un-fortuitously winds up right next to the cab containing Ferris’s dad. In those moments before this tense showdown Cameron expresses his disappointment in this whole day off leading Ferris to demand “Cameron, what have you seen today?” leading Cameron to dismissively declare “Nothing good.” Thus, when Ferris up and vanishes during the parade only to appear on the float what does he say? “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to play a little tune for you. I dedicate it to a man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today. Cameron Frye,” he announces, “this one’s for you.” But, of course, it’s for us too. All of us, because we are all too often guilty at half-glancing at all the wonders around us and shrugging and sighing and thinking it’s nothing good.

One of the favorite pastimes of Chicago journalists is attempting to see if they can achieve going to every single place Ferris, Cameron and Sloane go to in a single afternoon as the film would have us believe. They fail every time. But this does not prove the film’s implausibility – no, it rather demonstrates these journalists are missing the film’s point. The Day Off is an ideal. Ferris himself is an ideal. And it and he are working together to show Cameron and us that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop once in awhile and look around, you might miss it.” And there those journalists zipping all over Chicago (in a “fast” manner, one might say) are, failing to stop and look around and thereby missing the inherent beauty in everything they are seeing.

Which reminds me that today when I walk to the train I just need to stop for a second and gawk at 333 Wacker Drive.

Thoughts on this movie? What lesson(s) have YOU learned from Ferris Bueller?