Thoughts On: Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Inconsiquentiality And Living In The Moment


Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Inconsiquentiality And Living In The Moment

Thoughts On: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris, his best friend and girlfriend take a day off school to run about Chicago in a stolen Ferrari.

In the last few posts I've been talking about plot, narrative and character quite a bit. In doing so, I've been touching on points the forms of movies/scripts and of the devicive function of characters. In Ferris Bueller we see a use of form and of characterisation that implies an alleviation and imbues the film with an idea of presence, one that works toward creating a masterpiece of entertainment. So, to discuss this form we have to look  what this movie is trying to achieve. All narratives have a purpose, they have a beginning and end. The beginning of Ferris Bueller starts with a faked illness...

... and ends with one...

Ferris' goal is, quite obviously, to take a day off. For him, there is no true path, he constructs one doorway into undefined time and one out - that's all. This is the film in essence. It sets itself up not really for a plot, but for a loose period of time to work with, as does Ferris. He covers himself for around 6 hours of doing whatever he wants - of hopefully having a good time. There is nothing planned about his day, he does as he pleases. This, quite possibly, suggests something about how John Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller in the 'less than a week' that he did. It doesn't imply that Hughes didn't plan the script, that he just threw in a draft whilst having a good time, it implies that he knew the premise of his story - having a day off - and so only needed to set that up, fill the time, and then find a way to close things down. This expresses itself in the narrative. There's a simple meandering through Chicago with no expressed direction (geographically, or of plot). If we were to see the film solely from Ferris' perspective, we'd simply be running from one fun set-piece to the next. However, inserted into the smooth running of events (up until they get the car back) is somewhat flippant conflict.

The source of this kind of conflict is inescapable and built into the film. As to paraphrase what Jeffery Jones (who played the principal) said: we know that Rooney is not going to win. Watching the film we don't really see tension in this guy...

We are simply wondering how is he going to fail? Where is the next joke coming in? In a certain respect, this predictability isn't something good, it's seemingly a downfall of a movie. However, we know this is not a thriller. Ferris Bueller is a comedy/teen adventure. And with comedy often comes...

... often comes an idea that we are in on a joke. We see the world as the protagonist does, and in doing so can see what is funny. This is why Ferris talks to us in the beginning. He tells us his 'plan', about himself and his view on the world. From 'sounds kinda childish, but so is high school' to 'I could be the walrus, I'd still have to bum rides off people' he works toward aligning us with a rebellious teenage outlook. Essentially, we are made to feel his freedom, his disdain for Rooney and so can see--as he does--the outcome of his day. This is such a significant piece of writing as it creates a narrative for a character and by a character. In short, instead of seeing Ferris' story we are made to see a story surrounding him through his eyes. This is, when you see it in this way, transcendental cinema. We aren't just watching things on a screen, but having what's on screen be a platform to a different state of thinking and being. But, this is probably something you wouldn't easily pick up from this film because it entertains so well - as is the point. If a film made you see the world, feel the world through another's eyes, allowed you to watch cut away scenes of the opposing 'bad guy' and not see his agenda, but his downfall - and under the guise of other emotions (one's other than joy, rebellion and so on) - this would be a much more significant detail easily picked up on. In fact, this kind of cinema is a little beyond rationality. And it's in this that we'll be able to break down why transcendental films, films that have you see the world as we do Ferris' when we watch his film, of other genres are incredibly rare. Ferris Buller, as a film, is a somewhat irrational cinematic experience because it's essentially teenage propaganda. We are forced to see the world without consequence, a world in which everything is fine and skipping school is great. Granted, Ferris and the film aren't completely anarchistic, but they are in certain respect and for selected time periods (a day). By aligning ourselves with a rather immoral kid, one that advocates skipping school for fun and to an audience of whoever's listening without any reasoning beyond having to slow down, or any balancing of his ideal, we essentially stop thinking for ourselves. This is how the film manages to be transcendental - to have us embody his outlook. And the reason why other more serious films can't do this is 1) they often deal with emotional extremes, and, 2) when dealing with serious subject matter you have to be balance in order to not be criticised and ignored.

So, coming back to Ferris Bueller we see a cinematic technique that, in this form, is harmless, good fun that demonstrates what great characterisation can do for a movie and a cinematic experience, but in other form may seem ridiculous, irrational or quite possible dangerous. To clarify, it'd make sense to reference a previous talk on Fury (link here). With that film we talked about anti-war and pro-war films with Truffaut's quote:

"There is no such thing as an anti-war film"

Applying such an idea to this topic of a film embodying a character's perspective which in turn contorts our view of the world, we can have an understanding of why no film can be anti-war - just as it can't be pro-war. To construct a completely polar war film, you'd have to take the Bueller approach and give us a singular character, one that really resonates with us. Maybe he'd break the fourth wall to solidify that bond. We'd then follow him into war where he'd have to sustain our bond, one that is based on the idea that he is the one with more power - the one we're listening to. To sustain this he couldn't be shown as too weak. He the couldn't face any true conflict. The reason why is that good conflict holds a philosophical debate at its core, it asks us our opinion, it asks us to reflect, to consider a wider view than the film concentrated on a singular and polarised perspective could hold. To bring this idea into a war sequence you'd have to take away all true, compelling conflict of the serious nature and produce something like...

... the war sequence near the end of Duck Soup. Essentially, Ferris would be having his day out on the battlefield. He'd be overpowered, spurting off jokes like Deadpool and you'd bassically have a comedy. Profoundly connective films of this type are then equal part resonant and, for a lack of a better word, stupid. This balances the scale, and the balanced state is what we call good entertainment. After all, it's the facilitation of numbness that is the art of the blockbusters. It allows us to forget reality and sit back in a vacuum between an undefined here and there of consciousness that loosens our grip on feeling just enough to let time simply slip by.

So, in saying that Ferris Bueller is equal parts resonant and stupid, interesting and banal, it'd seem apparent that I'd not need to talk about it much. In fact, I could talk about Fast and Furious, Deadpool, Star Wars - any good popcorn movie - as to get this point across. So, why Ferris Bueller? This comes back to conflict. As I said, all good conflict holds at its core a debate to be had - between good and bad, right and wrong, the antagonist and protagonist. There's is then 2 types of conflict. There's internal conflict and external conflict. These are self-explanatory terms, however, internal conflict is emotional, it's in a characters head. External conflict is physical, a character must face it. All the conflict that we've talked about with Ferris so far (Rooney, finding his way out of school, back into his bedroom so nobody found out) was physical. But, as we touched on, Ferris does put forth some reasoning. It's teenage propaganda, high school is stupid and I could be the walrus. At the core of such an idea is not just a debate on school systems, work, society, on life's purpose, but the art of the blockbuster--as discussed--and so the purpose of living as suggested to an audience. As we've talked about before, films are largely about space and time (link here). To apply the idea of filling time (as does the second act of this plot) to a human search for numbness, we can begin to explore what Ferris Bueller suggests about entertainment and why we like it a certain way. We see internal conflicts as subjective pines. We see external conflicts objectively, see them as effecting many (as they do) and so something personal to ourselves as well as others. All true, complex and cinematic conflicts (that come to mind) offer an arc of conflict, quite possibly a cycle of conflicts. An internal conflict, say...

... not liking the world as is, may force you to behave in certain ways, maybe cut your hair, hold tighter to your military background, wait for threat, dare danger to cross your path, and when that's not good enough, seek it out.

This cycle of internal to external conflicts, if unresolved, leads to the destruction of both the inner and outer worlds. This is the narrative arc of Taxi Driver. It allows Travis to sink deeply into himself, project his internals onto the world as to take them all out and start again. But, of course 'starting again' is a lasting question of Taxi Driver, leaving Travis' cycle of internal and external conflicts ambiguously open. Not all conflicts across all films are left open though, otherwise every film would be like this, No Country For Old Men, Citizen Kane or Memento (most things with ambiguous ending). With many endings comes resolution, and resolution brings the settling of conflicts physically and then mentally (or vice versa). For example...

... the bad dragon is destroyed, everyone realises the good in the rest of the dragons so they all adopt them, embrace them into their culture and live happily ever after. One conflict solves another, just as one conflict can lead to another. In the cinematic realm, the domino effect runs both ways I suppose. They fall down, they fall back up, but you just have to tip one. However, with Ferris Bueller and films like it, there's an inherently one sided conflict. Because we know Ferris is never in any real danger, only feel the pressure of a building laugh or 'I thought so', you can basically negate the physical conflict. However, if internal conflicts lead onto external conflict in a domino effect kind of way, when you take out one half of the dichotomy how can the dominoes fall? Ferris can't feel like he's going to have a day off, yet know he's going to take one and everything will be fine, and still have problems to come. This is why all true moments of fear, of angst and interpersonal conflicts have the rhythm of a joke. They essentially build to a punch line, us laughing at ourselves for thinking the physical conflict was real. To wrap things up in a perfectly poetic bow, this actually turns all the physical conflicts we see Ferris to be facing into internal conflicts of ourselves. Hughes works the audience to imply physical conflict and because the form of his film suggests otherwise (that everything is going to be all right) he not only constructs a brilliant comedy, but a convoluted lesson in writing.

Hughes teaches us that you can create spaces of nothingness, you can then reduce a film to little more than an audience watching and feeling that nothingness. Coming back to the opening of the essay we have to look at these two images:

All starts as it ends, and all to explain the illusion that is entertainment. We are cheating our minds into forgetting time. We indulge in a stagnant and constant internal conflict - one already solved by the second act - as to abandon our own. In other words, Ferris just has fun, nothing other than that. There is then a true investment in the unreality that the mind can conjure with Ferris Bueller. It feeds us propaganda, fools us into believing we see a moving narrative time and time again like a horror movie that only ever uses jump scares, tricks us into seeing the world as a delinquent does, but most importantly tricks us into having a good time about it. Ferris essentially asks us to live in the moment, shows us what's that is like, then implores that "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't slow down and look around, you might miss it". But, having said all that, he has made us forget time, the moment, suspend ourselves from it, as to miss what we have have slowed down to inadvertently see. This renders his only reasoning for watching him... pointless? He tells us to live life, recognising we just done so vicariously, and for what?

But, to me, that is the lasting pun of the film. We live for the intangible. We want to feel a certain alleviation, this thing we call happiness, by doing things that aren't arduous, that allow us to forget what is passing by. We abstract ourselves from time, to let the space around us compound into 'memories made'. And I suppose that's the silly cycle of life. All we live for is numbness, an escape, a voidal reprieve to be looked back on and re-experience through the mind's watery eye. We live to sustain an internal conflict, a distracting questioning of the self and the world around it whilst refusing to recognise reality beyond a hope for one day contorting into our own fantasies. Why? For what? In all honesty it's not having the answers for that question that probably have us want to escape it.

So... in the end... just live your life. Go on. What are you waiting--you get the point. Go away.

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