“Don’t you forget about me.”
Re-watching The Breakfast Club was an interesting experience, to say the least, in no small part due to the very charming 80s American high school setting. It’s the quintessential coming-of-age film, about 5 students belonging to wildly different backgrounds: popular rich girl, champion wrestler, social outcast, delinquent, and bookish nerd, coming to realise that they’re more than their stereotypes, more than how the people around them perceive them, more than moulds their parents are trying to shape. It’s about teenagers, feeling that they are not enough, or that they are only, when they are more than more than more than—
The movie starts off with the students getting stuck in morning detention, hence the mocking nickname of “The Breakfast Club”. They appear to have seen each other around, but don’t know the other personally, because of the lack of overlap in their social circles. An overly strict teacher oversees their detention, and asks them all to write “an essay of no less than 1000 words” about who they think they are, before leaving them alone, only checking in from time to time. It’s worded condescendingly, mostly likely attempted to humiliate the students into apologies and promises. But it’s the kind of question that’s constantly on one’s mind: what do we perceive ourselves as? And how much of this perception, this pressure to maintain this image, is crafted by the hands of others around us?
The characters in the movie are teenagers, struggling to survive, to maintain their sense of self in a world that continuously attempts to dictate their directions based on how they’re perceived. Too young, too soft, too quiet, etc etc. Adults think teenagers need hand holding, and when you’ve been told your entire life that that is exactly what you need, you give in. I think many students in VJ, as teenagers, have thought about this before, and are in similar situations, and whether this pressure is from your family, or your teachers, or just the portion of society with the most say, it is an incredible pressure to bear, and it is understandable for students to be afraid of breaking.
“You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, and the most convenient definitions.”
The Breakfast Club is one of my favourite movies, given that every character’s situation is treated with equal gravity; that while they are teenagers, their problems are still framed in a serious manner. It is easy for adult filmmakers to have distanced themselves from the teenage experience, considering the negative connotations that come with being a teenager: “immature”, “stupid”, “reckless”. However, John Hughes portrays the teenagers as realistically as possible (putting aside the ages of the actors). There is something intrinsically likeable about the characters. They are presented as humans with vulnerabilities, who have projected them onto their behaviour, rather than as stereotypes of teenagers, which tends to be the case.
Their presentation, in general, is very skillful. Their clothes, their speech, the way they carry themselves all contribute to a certain perception of them. Andrew, the champion wrestler, wears a varsity jacket, suggests a fight every two seconds, and appears very confident. Brian, the bookish nerd, stammers, is in the Maths and Physics club, and has a hunched over, closed in posture. And if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then, well, it all provides specific first impressions not only for the other characters, but also for the audience members, who buy into these stereotypes being presented.
That’s what makes the reveal of their insecurities, the gradual pulling back of the curtains, surprising, but also emotional. Because of how the characters already act so much like their stereotypes, and attempt to maintain them, they’ve clearly bought into those stereotypes themselves. One can imagine the number of walls needed to have been torn down, the layers of skin needed to have been peeled back, for one to be so vulnerable as to confess to an insecurity that doesn’t fit in with their image. Perhaps even relate.
“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”
The most tragic thing is when we become desperate in maintaining this perception others have of us, because we have placed our sense of self worth into meeting the expectations others have set for us, and personal failure becomes to mean failing someone other than your own person.
By being obsessed with having to maintain a certain level of something, whether it be grades, popularity, athletics, whatever, there is no room for personal growth. But ignoring this constant, near irremovable pressure, is easier said than done. I think that’s why so many of us talk about escape, in some form or the other:
“I can run away, and go to the ocean. I can go to the country, I can go to the mountains.”
Just to imagine the relief of pressure, even if it’s only for a little while.
I think the healthiest thing a person can do is to focus on growth. Disconnecting your sense of self from how others see you is incredibly difficult, and failing these expectations others have of you can be very painful, but I hope you learn that eventually, you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.
At the end of the movie, the students leave a very short essay for their teacher, having “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?”
You are still exploring, and whatever happens to you, is growth. This is growth, and you are okay. You are okay.
Shannon Pei, 16A12