New perspectives on Ferris

pNrMusE83e5Qg4uw1Idg3s7EsCK.jpgFerris Bueller’s Day Off is 25 years old this month. But have we been misreading the lm’s message these past three decades?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released on June 11th, 1986, the day of Shia LaBeouf’s birth. Shia will be all over the cinema screens this month starring in Transformers 3. But we’ll be at home watching the film that was born when he was.

And we’ll be watching it with an idea in mind proposed by die-hard Bueller fans: that Ferris doesn’t actually exist: he is just a figment of his best friend Cameron’s imagination. Re-watching the film from this existential perspective transforms the story. Rather than being the “cool” friend, Ferris becomes the person Cameron wants to be, the part of his psyche that has the confidence to do the things he knows he needs to do.

The third member of the trio, Sloane, is the femalefriend Cameron has a crush on but never has the confidence to make a move. Only his alter ego Ferris could do that. He’s the voice in your head that convinces you to live a little, the imaginary Nietzschean Übermensch who helps Cameron elevate himself above his perceived problems. Revisionists point to several key points in the plot which supposedly prove their theory.

In the first exchange we see between the pair, Ferris telephones Cameron who is ill in bed. When Cameron says he’s too sick to do anything, Ferris replies, “It’s all in your head.” After hanging up on him, Cameron mumbles, “I’m dying”, and the phone rings again. He puts it on speaker and hears Ferris say, “You’re not dying. You just can’t think of anything good to do.” Somehow Ferris knows what Cameron was saying after having hung up.

This is the first supposed proof that Ferris is an imaginary alter ego of Cameron’s, just as Tyler Durden was to Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club. It’s a brilliant theory, though unfortunately it has been discredited, mostly by common sense if not by anyone who was actually involved in the film. The revelatory explanation was no doubt first suggested by someone late at night and started with the word, “Dude…”

Such an idea would have been far too way out for one of John Hughes’ teen comedies. Plus, it doesn’t explain the many times that Ferris is referenced by other characters, notably Principal Ed Rooney. So we may dismiss it, but we really shouldn’t ignore the idea entirely. As was always the case anyway, Cameron’s transformation is the film’s real story. The final scene when he destroys his father’s Ferrari and finally smiles is far more of a triumphant moment than Ferris’ antics during the famous “Twist And Shout” scene at the Von Steuben Day Parade. This is the point where Cameron finally joins the parade himself and stops being an onlooker on his own life.

Film critic Richard Roeper once said: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is something of a suicide prevention film, or at the very least a story about a young man trying to help his friend gain some measure of self-worth… Ferris has made it his mission to show Cameron that the whole world is passing him by.”

Or, viewed a different way, it’s a young man finally acting upon what he’s known
to be right all along and the swimming pool scene at the end, where Cameron is rescued by Ferris, is symbolic of his rebirth.

Re-watch with this in mind and somehow one of the greatest films of the decade takes on a new edge. Ferris is transformed from a smart-Alec kid into the voice in our heads reminding us that the spreadsheets, TPS reports, long hours and buttoned-down life might be okay, but time is passing us by. Every now and then we need to remind ourselves that “life moves pretty fast — if you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it.”

For Esquire magazine

One thought on “New perspectives on Ferris

  1. Pingback: Grazia column | MATT POMROY

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