“Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.” – Andrew Clarke, The Athlete
Andrew Clarke’s words ring as true now as they did in 1985. No matter our age and no matter the year, every single one of us is pretty bizarre in one way or another. The difference is, when we’re in high school, words like “bizarre,” and “weird,” and “different” are never compliments, and their relation to normalcy is measured by popularity and extracurricular activities. Bizarre is frowned upon, and uniqueness is shunned and mocked rather than celebrated when you’re a teenager, and the disconnect between these levels of acceptance and how they affect the way we interact at a young age, with both each other and authority figures, are as evident as ever in The Breakfast Club.
The sense of isolation created by the distance between not only teens and other teens, but teens and adults, seems to stretch for miles in high school, and in most cases even beyond that if we’re being honest. Adults are like alien life forms, sent to earth for the sole purpose of making each and every 16 year old’s life a living hell. No one can possibly empathize with our individual angst, but those who are able to relate the most (in our eyes) come in the form of sameness, which is represented by the existence of the clique, a toxic, but mostly necessary coping mechanism that simultaneously creates a sense of closeness (with those let in) and exclusion (to those shut out).
Social cliques are as prevalent now as they were thirty years ago, and it’s a subject that’s been explored in film over and over again from Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink in the ’80s to Mean Girls and Easy A in the 2000s, but I can think of no other film that dissects that subject as well as The Breakfast Club. Each of these four examples revolves around the queen bee, the popular crowd, and how their cruelty or sense of superiority can either be conquered or transformed. But The Breakfast Club subverts this repetitious angle by plucking one member of each social circle and locking them up with one another for one full day.
Not only are they forced to spend the day together, but they must do it in the confines of the building that teaches them all to treat others like social pariahs. They have to walk the halls without the comfortable padding of their entourage, leaving them bare and exposed to eventually resort to being nothing but themselves while instructed to spend those eight hours pondering exactly who that really is.
“Do you think I’d speak for you? I don’t even know your language” -John Bender, The Criminal
The brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the criminal. They all entered the library that morning convinced they all spoke a different language. Claire, with her pristine diamond earrings and her perfectly packaged sushi lunch. Bender with no lunch at all, carrying nothing with him but the chip on his shoulder. Andrew strutting around in his muscle tank, responding to any attack on his character with a threat of violence. Brian and his rule following, straight as an arrow demeanor, who can’t help but chime in when asked how many additional detentions Bender earns. And Allison, the compulsive liar who carries around her life in her handbag.
Each of them wear their stereotype on their sleeve, unaware that they could actually have something in common with someone who doesn’t exude the sameness they’ve grown accustom to using as an identifying factor of friendship. Add some cabin fever, boredom, a mutual disdain for authority, and a few smokes, and these five kids realize it’s possible to be defined by more than just a label. As the day wears on and the predispositions are slowly shed, each slate is wiped clean, like Allison’s dark makeup, and these characters come together to write their own story, not the one everyone else in their lives have written for them. Their reflexive barriers are broken down, replaced with a realization that they’re the same in all the ways that matter, and the nuances that define them and set them apart are what make them who they are, rather than their home life or their after school activities, or even their grades.
Strip all that way and you have five brains. Five athletes. Five basket cases. Five princesses (or princes), and five criminals. You have The Breakfast Club. And thirty years later, that’s a language we can all still speak. Because well, we’re all pretty bizarre.