Saturday, June 11, 2016

The "Ferris Club" Theory: An Analysis

I'm taking a step away from my usual shtick of blogging about sports to present you with a piece on one of my favorite movies of all time. This piece is only tangentially about sports, in that one character wears a hockey jersey through much of the film, and one scene takes place at a big-league ballpark.

Also, if you haven't seen the movie: SPOILER ALERT. In order for this article to make any damn sense, I have to reveal not just pertinent details, but the ending.

June 11, 1986, 30 years ago today: The film Ferris Bueller's Day Off premiered. In spite of my post, honoring the film's 25th Anniversary, showing that Ferris could really be a douche, it remains one of my top 5 favorite films of all time, and the only film I have ever, literally, laughed all the way home from seeing.

Directed by John Hughes, the voice of a generation that wasn't his (but he was between them and their parents, so "they had a common enemy"), it starred Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara and Alan Ruck as teenagers in the Chicago suburbs: The title character, his girlfriend Sloane Peterson, and his best friend Cameron Frye, respectively.

Ferris fakes being sick so he can stay home from school, floats a phony story about Sloane's grandmother dying so she can get out, and Cameron is actually sick (though he shows few signs of it once they actually get to the big city).

Ferris swipes a 1961 Ferrari convertible, belonging to Cameron's father, and off they go for a day on the town: Going to the top of the Sears Tower; watching the frenzied trading at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; having lunch at a snooty, snotty, very expensive French restaurant; taking in a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field; staring at paintings at the Chicago Museum of Art; and crashing the city's Von Steuben Day Parade.

There are two subplots: Their high school's principal, Ed Rooney (played by Jeffrey Jones), angry that Ferris keeps cutting school, and his sister, Jeannie (played by Jennifer Grey), angry that he's the favored child, are both determined to bust him.

In the end, he is not busted. Not because he doesn't get caught: He actually does, by Rooney. But he also gets saved, as Jeannie has a change of heart (and, really, don't we all have a change of heart after an intimate conversation with an admittedly-on-drugs Charlie Sheen?), and she pretends to be his mother, and tells Rooney, yes, my boy really was sick.

Ferris (and, in some cases, Sloane and Cam) gets out of numerous close calls, and even gets the entire town to take up the cause of his fake illness: The words "SAVE FERRIS" appear everywhere, from graffiti to the town's water tower to the famous Wrigley Field marquee. (A school sign and a policeman's badge confirm that the film is set in the same fictional town of Hughes' previous film, The Breakfast Club: Shermer, Illinois, based on Hughes' hometown, the real-life northern suburb of Northbrook.)

How does Ferris do all this stuff? Even more perplexing, how does he get away with it all?

He's a high school senior. That makes him 18 years old -- maybe 17. (Never mind that Broderick was 23 when it was filmed in September 1985.) Teenagers don't always think straight. Hell, grownups
don't always think straight. Think of all the mistakes you made in high school, and even in college. I made a bunch of mistakes in my teenage years. Most ended up not mattering much in the short term, let alone in the long run. There were a couple that could have gone horribly wrong, but I got lucky and they didn't. But there were some that were doozies, and I wish I could take them back.

And it's not like Ferris has to be super-resourceful because he was a kid growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in the city -- God forbid, in the now-demolished, then-nightmarish Cabrini-Green housing project. Take a look at the music posters on his wall: They're not rappers like Run-DMC (and this was before N.W.A. and the acts they influenced anyway), they're British New Wave acts, like the Pretenders and Simple Minds (whose lead singers, Chrissie Hynde and Jim Kerr, were then married to each other, and of course Simple Minds did "Don't You (Forget About Me)," the theme song to The Breakfast Club). Not even British punk acts like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, but much less aggressive New Wavers.

Ferris was a classic suburban rich kid. Both of his parents had high-paying jobs, either of which could have kept things comfortable without the other's income. His biggest concern was, "How can I stop Rooney from preventing me from graduating on time?" Not, "How can I keep from getting shot" or, "How can I keep my sister from getting involved with that horny-as-hell drug dealer?" (Ironic, since she did end up getting caught kissing Charlie Sheen's character. Yeah, that, their mother sees.) So there's not any reason for him to have to be a teenage Angus MacGyver or Jason Bourne. He's more of a teenage Richard Castle: "'In my dreams'? Look at my life: My dreams come true."

I'd like to think that I'm pretty resourceful. I thought I was pretty resourceful when I was in high school. Certainly, my parents weren't as rich as the Buellers, although we certainly weren't poor.

If, in the waning days of my senior year, I had tried all the shit that Ferris tried, you know what would have happened?

First of all, I would have had to bail in the first stages of planning it all, because, in the spring of 1987, my computer was a Commodore 64. I don't know what kind of computer Ferris was using to pull some of the stunts he pulled, but Broderick must've stolen it from the set of WarGames: In that film, 3 years earlier, he hacked into NORAD, and, more benignly, hacked into his school's computer and changed his grade in a course from an F to a C, and changed that of Ally Sheedy (who was in Breakfast Club) from an F to an A. In FBDO, he hacks into Shermer High's computer and changes his number of unexcused absences from "NINE TIMES!" to two. As far as I know, that couldn't be done on a C64.

But suppose that it could. Then, could I have done the Day Off? Gotten myself, my girlfriend and my best friend out of school, gone into the nearest big city (New York), and done the equivalents (the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center, the New York Stock Exchange, the Russian Tea Room, Yankee Stadium, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a parade?

Well, no, I couldn't have done it. A, I didn't have a girlfriend at the time. Girls liked me, until they found out I was interested in them, and suddenly they all either needed to wash their hair or were lesbians for 2 minutes. B, I didn't have a best friend -- certainly not one I could trust to keep quiet with the plan and not blow it during the execution thereof. And forget the fact that New York's most significant spring parade is on St. Patrick's Day, before baseball starts: That's a minor issue in comparison to these others.

But suppose I did have the computer, the girlfriend, the best friend, and the car. (I did have a car, but, let's face it, a 1979 Mercury Zephyr is not a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.) And I did have the big city nearby, with all that it has to offer. Could I have done it?

No! For one very simple reason: My family. You see, unlike Ferris' parents, my parents were not blithering idiots, too stupid to have the kind of corporate jobs the Buellers appear to have in the film. My mother is very attentive to details, such as seeing little things in her cabinets and plants that are not quite right, and spotting expiration dates and other important notes on coupons. I think she would have seen through my ruse in about five seconds.

(Well, maybe not: I asked her about this a while back, and she pointed out that I generally didn't get sick back then, nor pretended to be. So she might've thought, "He doesn't get sick often, so maybe this is for real." Maybe she would have bought it. On the other hand, as Ferris pointed out, "You have a nervous mother, you could get taken to the doctor's office, and that's worse than school." He was so right. My father, who has since died, was in the room when I asked her about this, and although he was a smart man with two science degrees from the school now known as NJIT, he looked at me like he had no idea of what I was talking about.)

But it's not just Ferris' parents: Every adult in the movie is an idiot. (This is hardly an original thought: Nearly everyone who discusses the movie points it out.) If Rooney were smart, the first thing he would have done upon hearing that Sloane was being taken out of school due to a grandmother who's died was look in his records to see if, in fact, she had a living grandmother at last check. He would have done that before asking if Sloane had a boyfriend who might be trying to pull something.

The first place he would have gone to check out Ferris' story about being sick would have been the house. Okay, the Rottweiler was there, but he did find a way to subdue the dog; surely, somewhere in or around the house, there was a way to do it sooner.

Grace, his secretary (Edie McClurg), is a little smarter (witty enough to tell Jeanie that Rooney being "out on personal business" means, "It's personal, and it's none of your business"), but if she's the sharpest knife in Shermer High's drawer, then that school is in trouble.

The history teacher (Ben Stein) is a bad teacher, because he speaks in a style that is called -- Anybody? Anybody? -- "monotone." And the English teacher, although perhaps not dumb, has a speaking style that is even weirder: "In... what... way... does the author's use of... prison... symbolize... "

Okay, there are some smart adults. The Avery Schreiber-like guy at the lunch counter at the bowling alley where Rooney looks for Ferris tells Rooney the score of the ballgame is "Nothing-nothing," and when Rooney asks, "Who's winning?" he sneers, "The Bears." And, like Ferris himself, the skeevy-looking parking-deck attendant isn't fool enough to let an opportunity to drive a '61 Ferrari around the City of Big Shoulders go to waste.

But the maître d' at Chez Quis? The people running the parade? The 911 operator that Jeannie calls about the intruder (who, at first, she doesn't realize is Rooney)? The cops who then arrest her instead, for making what they think is a crank call to 911? Every adult who buys into the SAVE FERRIS scam? Cameron's father -- Who leaves the keys to a very rare, very expensive antique sports car in the ignition? These people are morons.

FBDO only works of one of two things is true:

1. The film takes place in an alternate timeline where, as opposed to in real life, the world's first controlled nuclear chain reaction, which happened at the University of Chicago in 1942, wasn't as controlled as everyone thought, and 99 percent of the people living and/or born in the "Chicagoland" area over the next quarter-century or so (leaving 1 percent to be smart, like Ferris and Sloane, Cam not so much), ended up stupid enough to fall for all of Ferris' schemes. Or, something similar happened to produce such widespread stupidity. Or...

2. It's all just an elaborate fantasy.

"Duh," you're thinking. "Of course it's a fantasy, Mike. It's John Hughes' fantasy. You know, the man who wrote the screenplay and directed the film."

Yes, I know. In a fantasy film, including science fiction, some suspension of disbelief is required. None of us has super-strength, the ability to fly, or the ability to conduct magic. Our technology goes to a certain point, and no farther -- farther than it did in 1986, but still not that much farther.

(God only knows what Ferris could have done with a smartphone and a GPS. Then again, a smart Rooney might have been able to track Ferris' phone, and the movie would have been over in about 15 minutes. Someday, I've got to do that piece on Films That Can't Be Remade Today Due to Advancing Tech.)

And yet, given 25 different situations where his Day Off could have gone wrong, it doesn't:

1. He could have actually felt sick when he woke up, thus he still would have missed school, but he wouldn't have been able to put his plan into action.

2. It could have rained, thus postponing the ballgame and the parade, thus convincing him that the rest of it wasn't worth it, and he should bag it and just go to school.

3. His parents could have not bought his story -- in the first minute of the film. Ferris did, after all, admit it was "one of the worst performances of my career."

4. Cameron could have said no, and held to it. Like he said toward the end: "I could have stopped you. It is possible to stop Mr. Ferris Bueller, you know."

5. Cameron's father could have locked the garage.

6. Cameron's father could have not left the keys to the Ferrari in the ignition.

7. Sloane could have slapped him for letting her think her grandmother had died. After all, when told this had happened, she seems genuinely upset, giving no indication that she thinks this is a Ferris caper. When she finds out it's not true, she seems genuinely relieved. She could have slapped him and told him, "You bastard! You think I'm going to cut school for you? After what you just did? Oh, hell, no: I'm going back to Rooney and ratting you out!" Result: He loses a year and his fine girlfriend.

8. She could have had a milder, but no less damper-putting, reaction, saying, "You're going to get busted!" outside the school, and called it off, instead of saying it at Chez Quis.

9. Rooney could have run out to the Ferrari as soon as he saw Sloane kissing "Daddy."

10. He could have called Ferris' parents a second time.

11. He could have looked in the phone book for "The Coffin Brothers Mortuary," and discovered that it doesn't actually exist.

12. He could have turned his head two seconds later, and seen Ferris (and Sloane and Cameron) on TV at the Cubs game.

13. He could have gotten upstairs at the house and seen the dummy in the bed before Jeanie did.

14. He could have figured out who Jeanie was, and, instead of jumping out at her, offered her a deal: "Help me catch Ferris, and I'll keep this unexcused absence off your record." He could even have sweetened the deal, boosting her credits to help her graduate this year while Ferris has to wait for the next, rather than the intended other way around. (After all, if Ferris is held back, that means Jeanie has to spend another year at the school with him, which does her no good.)

15. The Ferrari, as Cameron warned, could have gotten "wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed-on wrong, a pigeon could shit on it, who knows?" Indeed, it was stolen, by the parking lot attendant, and driven 174 miles before he returned it. (And, of course, it was already stolen, by Ferris himself.) Suppose the attendant and his joyriding partner had wrecked it? Talk about an awkward situation: "Hi, Mr. Frye, this is Ferris Bueller. Listen, first of all, this was all my fault, Cameron tried to talk me out of it. He's a good kid, he was looking out for you, you should be proud of him. But, um, well, you know that Ferrari you have? Well, it's kind of at the bottom of Lake Michigan... "

16. The maître d' at Chez Quis knew who Abe Froman was, and probably knew him by sight, even if he wasn't a regular customer. He could have demanded to see Ferris' ID, and it would have been over. Or, he could have simply called the real Froman. Or called the police himself, and asked if they had a "Sergeant Peterson." (Why Cameron used Sloane's family name, along with the voice he used to pretend to be Sloane's father to Rooney, instead of using his own name and being "Sergeant Frye," I don't know.)

17. Ferris' father could have seen them at Chez Quis. (On the float in the parade, from his office window, probably not: Anything above 4 or 5 stories, and Ferris' face wouldn't have been visible.)

18. Ferris, or Sloane, or Cameron, could have been hit by that foul ball at Wrigley, and gotten knocked out. This happened to Drew Barrymore in the U.S. version of Fever Pitch.

19. The Cubs game could have gone to extra innings, thus throwing off Ferris' timetable. Remember, the game was scoreless at the time of the foul ball. If it was tied at the end of 9 innings, who knows. Ferris might have had to bag the parade, or even the trip to the museum. This is a major plot hole: Cubs games, then as now, usually started at 1:20 PM. Figure a 9-inning game went around 3 hours, so it would have ended at around 4:20 PM. Then they went to the museum. Then the parade sequence. Then they spent a few minutes on Lake Shore Drive, trying to snap Cameron out of his shock over the odometer. Then they went to Sloane's house -- the scenery rules out it being Cameron's, and if it had been Ferris', they would have gotten caught -- changed into swim clothes, and sat around the pool. Then they dried off, changed back into regular clothes, and went to Cameron's house, and went through that sequence. Then Ferris and Sloane go back to Sloane's house, and he sees her watch, and it's 5:55. You're telling me that all that happened in a shade over an hour and a half? I ain't buyin' it.

20. The cops could have busted Ferris for getting on the parade float in the first place. You, or a group you're in, need a permit to take part in a parade. Yet Ferris performs the 2nd-most-famous parade hijacking in movie history -- and a good time is had by all, even the authorities, unlike in the one movie parade-hijacking that tops it, the Faber College homecoming parade at the end of Animal House.

21. Cameron's scream as they head back home could have startled Ferris -- or startled Sloane to the point where she screamed and startled Ferris -- to the point where he, rather than the parking-lot attendant in the aforementioned alternate scenario, accidentally drove the car off Lake Shore Drive and into the lake. Then, more than the car could have been lost: They could have been killed, or at least seriously hurt.

22. Either of Ferris' parents could have seen him running home. True, this would have been after school was already out, but, remember: They think he's sick, and in no condition to be literally running around town.

23. Jeanie, who did see him running home, could have tried to run him over. Or, instead of speeding up, could have honked to catch their mother's attention.

24. Jeanie could have let Ferris take the fall when Rooney finally came face-to-face with him. (Even though, at this point, all Rooney can prove is that Ferris was home at 6:00, well after school let out. Legally, Ferris could have beat this without Jeanie's help.)

25. And, finally, he could have forgotten that he had the means (the foul ball in his pocket) to turn off his snore-faking synthesizer from his bed, thus allowing his parents to hear it.

You're telling me that, given over two dozen chances to have his plan fall apart, either before or during the Day Off, it didn't?

Think about it for a moment: Suppose you're at a racetrack. You see the horses coming onto the track for the next race, for which you have not yet placed a bet. You see one horse, and he looks raring to go. He looks healthy, strong, and up for the race. You know the jockey's record: He's a good one, and he's been a winner on this track many times.

You've got just enough time to read the racing form to pick a horse for this race and then get up to the betting window and place your wager. And you see the racing form, and you look for the horse's number, and you see he's a 25-1 shot. Twenty-five to one. There are several other horses in the race with better odds. (In Ferris' case, the "horses with better odds" include going to school, skipping an item or two on his itinerary, going alone so as not to risk implicating his girlfriend and his best friend, renting a nice Cadillac or calling a limo like Cameron suggested, bringing the Ferrari back to the Frye house after picking up Sloane and then taking METRA commuter rail into the city, just plain staying home, and waiting until school is out for the summer to do all this stuff.)

Are you going to bet on the 25-1 shot? Or on a 7-1? Or a 4-1?

There's all these reasons why the Day Off shouldn't have worked in full. But it did, and everybody involved was either better off (even if they were only parade participants and spectators having more fun than would be expected) or not directly affected. Everybody was better off or not directly affected -- except, of course, for Rooney.


This movie has to be a fantasy. The adults we see being stupid in the film can't be that stupid. Maybe some of them, but not all of them. If they are, there has to be some kind of explanation. (Maybe this is the world of Watchmen, and Dr. Manhattan's powers had something to do with it. That movie's "present" is 1985, after all, and there's no mention of our world's fictional superheroes in FBDO: No Superman, no Batman, no Spider-Man, nobody from DC or Marvel.)

Except, at no time, either in image or in spoken word, is there anything in the film to suggest that it takes place in a future time, where technology allows a man to do things he couldn't do in 1986; or an alternate timeline, where a technological change happened a lot sooner, creating a more advanced world than we knew then (or know now); or a world where magic is available, allowing for some of our physical laws to be overcome.

Ferris isn't from the future, having gone back to 1986 to escape his dreary life in 2016 or whatever year he'd be from. He's not the captain of a starship in some century yet to come, using technology we, now, can only imagine and not truly explain. In spite of his ability to get away with things most people couldn't, he's not secretly a Jedi, or a wizard from Middle Earth. He's not a vampire, a werewolf or a ghost. He's not an alien capable of bending the laws of physics like Superman or E.T. He's not a Time Lord with a TARDIS, or a mad scientist who figured out how to put electricity, plutonium and an '81 DeLorean together and make a time machine. (Besides, if he had a TARDIS or a DeLorean, he wouldn't need the Ferrari.)

He's a teenager with his wits and a computer -- and not a teenager who's been bitten by a radioactive spider, either. He has no superpowers, inborn/mutant, accidental, or self-created, by means that don't make sense in 2016, let alone in 1986.

He's just a guy. An 18-year-old guy, with the best technology that a private citizen could buy (and reasonably fit into a decent-sized bedroom) in 1986; a girlfriend who is seriously gorgeous and classy, but (as far as we know) isn't having sex with him; a best friend who's up to his long neck in neuroses; a "boss" who's one inch away from holding him back in high school for another year; and whose biggest advantages seem to be his parents' wealth, his proximity to one of the world's great cities, an irrepressible drive to have fun when people think he shouldn't, and the stupidity of said people.

He's just an ordinary kid, living in, as far as we can tell, the world we know, with all its 1986 advancements, but also all its 1986 limitations.

So how can he do all these things, and get away with them?


There is a theory that the entire movie happens in Cameron's mind. As said in that article:

My favorite thought-piece about Ferris Bueller is the "Fight Club" theory, in which Ferris Bueller, the person, is just a figment of Cameron's imagination, like Tyler Durden, and Sloane is the girl Cameron secretly loves.

One day, while he's lying sick in bed, Cameron lets "Ferris" steal his father's car and take the day off, and as Cameron wanders around the city, all of his interactions with Ferris and Sloane, and all the impossible hijinks, are all just played out in his head. This is part of the reason why the "three" characters can see so much of Chicago in less than one day -- Cameron is alone, just imagining it all.

It isn't until he destroys the front of the car in a fugue state does he finally get a grip and decide to confront his father, after which he imagines a final, impossible escape for Ferris and a storybook happy ending for Sloane ("He's gonna marry me!"), the girl that Cameron knows he can never have.

Check out this video. As with the parody Brokeback to the Future, you will never look at the original movie the same way again:


"Just a second, Mike," you're thinking. "Fight Club came out in 1999. Ferris came out in 1986. How can Ferris be based on Fight Club?"

Fight Club was a film that premiered in 1999, based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk that was published in 1996. Still, that's a 10-year gap after Ferris.

But I'm not saying that Fight Club was based on Ferris. Only that there is a theory (not my own) that they have the same basic idea: Guy feels powerless, imagines a more powerful friend, becomes that friend in his mind, and has to face the consequences of his delusion. The theory is called Ferris Club.

So is this theory correct? I have to admit, it makes a lot of things in the movie make sense.

I'll list the reasons -- first, why it might be true; second, why it might not be -- in chronological order, as seen in the film.

Reasons Why the "Ferris Club" Theory Might Be True:

* Ferris breaking the fourth wall. Ferris talks to the audience throughout the movie. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be possible.

* The characters' ages. This is one thing I've always hated about movies & TV shows set in high schools: The kids are, all too often, played by grownups. Ferris and Cameron are seniors, probably already 18 years old. Sloane and Jeanie are juniors, making them 16 or 17.

At the time of filming, September through November 1985, Broderick was 23 and had a serious 5:00 shadow. Grey was 25 (older than Broderick), and didn't seem to make Jones' Rooney think, "Wait a minute, Mrs. Bueller looks damn good for a woman in her early 40s." Instead, she played Ferris' mother and Rooney bought it. Ruck was a whopping 29. Only Sara, 18, was actually of high school age.

(To be fair, at 56, Grey looks phenomenal. Sara, however, turns 49 in a few days, and hasn't aged nearly as well.)

* Ferris actually comes right out and says it: It's all in Cameron's head. He says it in the phone call near the film's start:

Cameron: Where are you?
Ferris: I'm taking the day off, come on over.
Cameron: I can't, stupid. I'm sick.
Ferris: That's all in your head.

* Ferris' capability vs. Cameron's. During the parade, Cameron tells Sloane, "As long as I've known him, everything works for him. There's nothing he can't handle. I can't handle anything." What better person to fantasize about being that someone who can handle anything, especially when you can't?

* Ferris' popularity. Exactly what is this based on? It's the 1980s, and the movie came out a little less than 2 years after Revenge of the Nerds. Ferris is not a stereotypical pre-computer era nerd: He doesn't have horn-rim glasses (he wears the kind of shades that Tom Cruise was already known for wearing, including in Top Gun, which came out the previous month), and doesn't wear a dress shirt with a pocket protector full of pens. He wears a leather jacket, for crying out loud. He's more Fonzie of Happy Days than Lewis Skolnik of Revenge of the Nerds.

But, in the Eighties, it wasn't cool kids who were skilled with computers. And Ferris, clearly, is considered a cool kid.

* Sloane. She is the girl Cameron wants, but can't have, because, in real life, she's dating a popular guy. So Cameron imagines a guy even more popular, Ferris, and lives vicariously through him.

* Cameron's roleplay. Can he "be Ferris"? Why not? He gets on the phone and plays Sloane's father to Rooney. Later, he gets on the phone and plays a cop to the maître d' at Chez Quis. And those are pretty much the only times in the movie where he exhibits any confidence: When he's not being Cameron Frye.

* Cameron's "invisibility." This might be the best reason in favor of the theory. Like the song "Mr. Cellophane" in the musical Chicago (set in the same city, of course, albeit nearly 60 years earlier), you can look right through him, walk right by him, and never even know he's there.

Case in point: Rooney asks Grace who Sloane's boyfriend is. Clearly, he has a hunch that it might be Ferris. (So he's not totally stupid.) He could just as easily have asked who Ferris' girlfriend is. Funny, but he never bothers to get suspicious about Cameron's absence, or asks who Ferris' best friend is, who his chief accomplice might be.

And we know Cameron gets sick a lot. Has he missed school NINE TIMES? We don't know, but it's plausible. Yet Cameron's absence doesn't ring a bell with Rooney. He doesn't think, "Hmmmm, Frye is out, claiming to be sick. Bueller is out, claiming to be sick. Don't I often see those two together in the hall? Like they're best friends or something. Something's going on, goddamnit... " Rooney knows about Ferris and Sloane, but, for all we know, he doesn't even know Cameron exists.

And if Cameron really is sick that often, you'd think somebody would be concerned about him. After all, if Ferris is that popular, wouldn't his best friend have some residual popularity? Surely, Cam could "pick up some of Ferris' leftovers" -- friends, and girlfriends, if Ferris had had girlfriends before Sloane. Yet nobody wants to "SAVE CAMERON." You say he doesn't need "saving"? After all, it's only a cold. Well, let's face it, as Ferris points out, nobody in the film needs saving more than Cameron.

And yet, in the entire film, there's only three people who say so much as a word to Cameron: Ferris (who, in this theory, is a made-up character), Sloane (who, in this theory, is either completely made-up or an imagined version of a real person), and the parking deck attendant, who says exactly one word to him: "Relax!" (If the movie were remade today, I can easily see the scriptwriter changing it to "Chillax!") And then he says, not to Cameron, but to all three of them...

Attendant: Uh, you fellas have nothing to worry about. I'm a professional.
Cameron: A professional WHAT?
Ferris (giving Cameron a belt in the ribs): He heard you!

Did he, Ferris? Did he really? Or did he only hear you, the projection of Cameron's mind?

"But, Mike," you say, "Rooney talked to Cameron. On the phone, when Cameron was pretending to be Sloane's father." Exactly: Rooney didn't know he was talking to Cameron. Hell, he didn't even see who he was talking to. Again: For all Rooney knows, Cameron doesn't exist. (Of course, it's usually a good thing if the man in Rooney's job doesn't know you exist. It's a good way to stay out of trouble.)

Indeed, the entire Chicago metropolitan area seems to be rallying around Ferris, to the point where the famed Wrigley Field marquee puts "SAVE FERRIS" up.
* Ferris proposing to Sloane. Such a mature, responsible act is totally out of character for him, to the point where Sloane thinks he's kidding, and, without changing her facial expression, calmly says, "Sure." Until he says, "I'm serious," and she laughs and says, "I'm not getting married!" And when Ferris asks for a good reason why not, Cameron is the one who, in a rare level-headed moment for him, comes up with what he thinks are two good reasons: His parents.

Now, why would Cameron say that? Because his fantasy is that Sloane is his girlfriend. But if she's his wife, that means a lot of new responsibilities. Cameron is trying to avoid responsibility, every bit as much as his imagined Ferris does.

* Chez Quis. A restaurant like that, there's going to be a dress code, and no matter who Ferris can convince he's Abe Froman, he's not getting in dressed like that. Nor is Sloane. Nor is Cameron -- who's wearing a hockey jersey, for crying out loud! Unless the scene is taking place in Cameron's mind, and he's never been in a restaurant like that, in which case the thought of a dress code might not have occurred to Cameron, in which case the restaurant in his mind doesn't have one.

Also, when Cameron impersonates a cop at Chez Quis, he calls himself "Sergeant Peterson," not "Sergeant Frye." It's not so much that he uses Sloane's family name, but that he doesn't use his own name. He is so determined to not be Cameron Frye, or any Frye,that he continues to use a phony name.

* The real Abe Froman. He does have a reservation for that time. And yet, he never shows up to claim it. Would that happen in reality? No.

* Cameron's parents. Here's what Ferris says about them, as if he knows them very well... as if this is Ferris speaking Cameron's thoughts:

I used to think that my family was the only one with weirdness in it. Then I saw Cameron's family. His home life is really twisted. That's why he's sick all the time. It really bothers him. He feels better when he's sick.

If I had to live in that house, I'd pray for a disease, too. The place is like a museum: It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything. Can you appreciate what it must have been like to be there as a baby? I'm amazed that I got the car out. I caught Cameron digging the ride. It's good for him. It teaches him to deal with his fear.

Cameron's parents are usually cold and absent, but when he's sick, they show affection. We see Ferris' parents doting on him when they think he is sick, but that's not the norm for Cameron. The rest of his life, Cameron feels alone and ignored. When Cameron withdraws and becomes Ferris, he is loved and adored by his parents and everyone else.

There's also a theory that Ferris is real (within the confines of the movie, of course), that these things are actually happening to Cameron, but that... Ferris is having an affair with Cameron's mother, which is why Ferris wants to take the car, and why Cameron's father hates him. It doesn't have much to it, beyond circumstantial evidence (and it means Ferris doesn't really need Sloane, unless he's so horny and so full of himself that he thinks he should have two lovers), but it is plausible.

* The timing of the parade. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a German baron and general who helped George Washington straighten out the Continental Army during the War of the American Revolution. German-American heritage is celebrated by some cities, including New York and Chicago, with the Steuben Parade. It's usually held on the 3rd Saturday in September, since the Baron's birthday was September 17.

The movie makes a big point of this day being in the Spring, and on a weekday -- not on a Saturday at the beginning of Autumn, when that particular parade is supposed to take place. Hughes filmed during a real Steuben Parade in Chicago, on September 14, 1985. Its identification as such is clearly visible on the film: It's not a generic parade with a lot of West German (at the time) flags and people in German folk costumes: It's definitely the city's official Steuben Parade. So why would this particular parade be on a Spring weekday? (New York holds the St. Patrick's Day Parade every March 17, regardless of the day of the week, but the Steuben Parade is held on Saturdays.)

My guess is, Cameron wanted to imagine a parade, and realized that the kid he's made up is named Bueller, and that's a German name, and he thought of the Steuben Parade. If it had been Ferris O'Leary, he might have imagined the St. Patrick's Day Parade -- but that would have eliminated the ballgame as a possibility, since the Cubs would still have been at spring training in Arizona.

* Cameron's reaction to how many more miles are on the odometer. He said that when he was catatonic after freaking out, "I watched myself from inside." An out-of-body experience?

* The odometer. Would Ferris not know that you can't roll an odometer back by driving in reverse? It's Ferris freakin' Bueller! Yet we're to believe that he makes this mistake? Setting aside Ed Rooney hitting the doorbell multiple times, this is the only mistake that Ferris makes in the entire film that leaves behind incriminating, unexplainable, physical evidence!

There's a reason for this. It's not Ferris' mistake, it's Cameron's mistake. Setting the car up to go in reverse is something hard-luck Cameron would try to do and fail. Ferris says, "We'll have to crack the engine open, and roll the odometer back by hand." Well, sure, but Cameron nixes the idea, because he knows he doesn't have the skill to do that in the real world. He's screwed, and his imaginary friend can't help him here.

* Jeanie is playing Ferris' mother. Hey, maybe Jeanie exists, and she's the girl Cameron really wants.

* Rooney doesn't recognize Jeanie. Surely, with all his intent to "get" Ferris, he knows Ferris has a sister in the same school.

* Jeanie's save at the end. Why does Jeanie help Ferris get out of trouble at the end of the movie if she was trying to get home before him so that he would be caught?

Jeannie overheard Mr. Rooney tell Ferris, "How would you feel about another year of high school?" She does not want her brother to keep going to her school and annoying her with his schemes. Also, her experiences during the day, and her conversation at the police station, have altered her views, and she now appreciates Ferris' perspective more. She also wanted to get back at Rooney for breaking into her home. Plus, she'd actually won the race home and probably wanted to enjoy her triumph, perhaps thinking she could get her brother to return the favor someday.

At any rate, Jeanie helping Ferris get away with it is all part of Cameron's fantasy of Ferris getting away with the kinds of things he'd like to get away with... but he doesn't have the courage to try any of them, for fear of getting caught, and for fear of his father finding out.

* The ending. When Cameron kicks the Ferrari's grill in, and then accidentally destroys it outright, he realizes that he can no longer avoid it: He must come clean to his father, and stand up to him: "I gotta take a stand."

The Ferris fantasy offers to take the bullet for him, and say that he did it: "He hates me, anyway." But Cameron rejects this offer -- because it won't work. Having Ferris, at this point, won't do him any good. He can't hide behind Ferris, because, if the "Ferris Club" theory is correct, his father doesn't know Ferris exists. Because Ferris doesn't exist.

Cameron finally, to borrow the words of Cole Porter, chooses to "use your mentality, wake up to reality." So he doesn't need Ferris anymore. Nor does he need Sloane. And he says goodbye to them by giving them a happy ending: They will end up getting married, and, against all odds, Ferris gets home, and, with Jeanie's help, fakes out Rooney, and gets away with it all.

* And finally, while this has absolutely nothing to do with FBDO, it fits the pattern. When Mel Brooks turned his movie The Producers into the very thing it satirized, a Broadway musical, he cast Matthew Broderick in the Gene Wilder role of Leopold Bloom, and Nathan Lane in the Zero Mostel role of Max Bialystock. (Broderick and Lane would later do The Odd Couple on Broadway as well, as Felix and Oscar, respectively.) When Broderick and Lane went on the road to tour in The Producers, guess who replaced Broderick in the Broadway version? Alan Ruck, who played Cameron. Once again, Ruck had to do something because Broderick wasn't really there. (In this case, not there anymore.)


There are many reasons why either Ferris is all in Cameron's head, or Cam is simply imagining what it would be like to be part of Ferris' life. But there are also several reasons why it can't be true.

Reasons Why the "Ferris Club" Theory Might Not Be True:

* If Ferris is the kid that Cameron imagines that he would like to be, why would he imagine that Ferris doesn't have a car, and needs to steal his father's Ferrari? Why wouldn't he simply imagine that his father's Ferrari actually belongs to Ferris?

After all, Ferris calls Cameron's car "a piece of shit." But then, he adds, "I don't even have a piece of shit. I have to envy yours." If Ferris is nothing more than Cameron's fantasy, why would he have Ferris envy something of his? Especially that dinky little car?

* Why would he imagine Ferris slapping him while he's on the phone with Rooney? Shouldn't he imagine a cool best friend who wouldn't do that?

* Why would Cameron be fantasizing about Ferris' sister? I don't mean sexually (at least, no such fantasy of Cameron's is shown onscreen). Rather, Cameron is imagining scenes where the central figure is Jeanie. Jeanie hearing "Save Ferris" talk. Jeanie standing alone in the hall. Jeanie driving away. Jeanie in the house, trying to catch Ferris in the act. Jeanie interacting with Rooney, the Shermer police, and Charlie Sheen.

These are scenes where Ferris isn't in the room. There are some scenes where Ferris isn't even in the same city (he's in Chicago, Jeanie's back in Shermer). There's also scenes with Rooney where Ferris isn't in the room. In each case, that makes no sense -- unless Ferris and Jeanie are real, and the movie
isn't Cam's fantasy.

* If the film is actually about Cameron, and the point of it is that Cameron has to realize that he finally has to stand up to his father, then he no longer needs "Ferris." So Ferris and Sloane should then disappear. If they're no longer necessary, we shouldn't care what happens to them after Cameron decides to "take a stand." We shouldn't see them kiss, and we shouldn't see Ferris' race to beat his parents and sister home.

* If Ferris' life is so great, why would Cameron fantasize about a villain (Rooney) to go after him and try to ruin it all? Based on his conversation with Ferris in the Bueller kitchen after impersonating Sloane's father over the phone, clearly, Cameron hates Rooney. (Which pokes a hole in the idea that Rooney doesn't know Cameron exists.) Maybe he wants to see Rooney get some comeuppance. But if he really wants to fantasize about Ferris doing all this stuff and getting away with it, why have the villain at all? Or, better yet, why not imagine himself as the one who gives Rooney his comeuppance?

* Finally, here is the kicker for me, the biggest reason why, for all the reasons that many of the events in the movie don't make any freaking sense, it can't all be just in Cameron's head: The penultimate sequence, before Ferris' race against his parents (and, he realizes too late, Rooney).

If you believe that everything that happens in the movie is leading toward the moment of clarity in the glassy, Frank Lloyd Wright "prairie style house" garage, where Cameron realizes that he needs to stand up for himself, to face his fears, starting with his fear of his father, then your moment of clarity has to be when you realize...

Cameron doesn't need Ferris anymore.

Ferris is willing to take the bullet for Cameron. And Cameron says, "No."

Cameron: My father will see what I did. I can't hide this. He'll come home and he'll have to deal with me. I don't care, I really don't. I'm just tired of being afraid. Hell with him... I'd just like to see the look on the bastard's face when...
(He puts his foot on the bumper, and that makes the car back up and, in reverse, crash through the window and fall into the ravine.)
Cameron: What'd I do? (Hearing no answer) What'd I do?
Ferris: You killed the car.
Cameron: (Going to the window and seeing what he's done) Whoa... Holy shit.
Ferris: Cameron, it's my fault. I'll take the heat for it. When he comes home, we'll tell him that I did it. He hates me, anyway.
Cameron: No, I'll take it. I'll take it.
Ferris: No. You don't want this much heat.
Cameron: I want it. I want it. If I didn't want it, I wouldn't have let you take the car.
Ferris: I made you take that car.
Cameron: I could have stopped you. It is possible to stop Mr. Ferris Bueller, you know.

And while he's still got to be terrified on the inside, for the first and only time in the movie, he's outwardly calm. He's not sniffling, he's not sweating, he's not screaming, he's not worrying. He's not even scared on the outside. He's completely calm.


But should he be? In my 25th Anniversary piece, I wondered about what I called "the dangling epilogue." We don't know what happens to them in the end. I wondered about things:

* Jeanie now has the hammer over Ferris. She could say, "You owe me, big brother. I saved your ass from Rooney." And he knows it. How that would manifest itself, we may never know. Maybe, when Ferris hits it big as a standup comedian, he'll pay for Jeanie's nosejob. (A reference to Jennifer Grey in real life, and to the short-lived TV version with the location moved to the L.A. suburbs, Charlie Schlatter as Ferris, Brandon Douglas as Cameron, Monkee Micky's daughter Ami Dolenz as Sloane, Richard Riehle as Rooney, and a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston as Jeanie, who in that version was the older sibling.) Jennifer Grey wasn't yet "Baby" from Dirty Dancing, but, if Jeannie wanted to, she absolutely could have put Ferris in a corner.

* Sloane's parents may well find out about Ferris' ruse involving the grandmother. Can you imagine Sloane's mother yelling, "You told the principal my mother was dead!" at Ferris, and the parents telling him to stay away, and forbidding Sloane from ever seeing him again?

* Rooney is unlikely to give up. And, after letting Ferris give him the worst beating of his academic career, he is now more determined than ever to get Ferris. There's still a few weeks left before graduation. He can find a reason to hold Ferris back.

* There was a built-in sequel, although it's now too late. Early on, Rooney said, "Fifteen years from now, when he looks back at the ruin his life's become, he is going to remember Edward Rooney." Fifteen years would have been 2001. I can easily imagine Ferris' dreams shattered when he reaches a point where his schemes stop working, because he's faced with an adult smarter and meaner than Rooney. He might have to do a "Jack Black in School of Rock" and go back to Shermer High and become a substitute teacher. If Rooney's still there, he gets denied the job. If Rooney's not still there, Ferris might now be in the position that Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) was in Breakfast Club: The Shermer High teacher who has to discipline rebellious students, who can't possibly imagine that this guy, whom they only know as Mr. Bueller the middle-aged teacher, was ever cool.

But the true "elephant in the room" is Morris Frye, Cameron's as-yet-unseen father. If he's everything Cameron has spent the last hour and a half telling the audience he is, then Cameron is toast. His ass is grass. There is no way Dad is going to think it over, and forgive and forget. He's going to take the damage to the car, and the garage, out of Cameron's college fund. He could write Cameron out of his will, which, considering the house and the car, is probably substantial, even for a guy with enough money to afford all that in the first place.

He might even kick his son out of the house. He'll be on his own -- and for a kid, who doesn't have the safety net of home and/or college, and has to make his own way, that is scary as hell. (Now who's "gonna be a frycook on Venus"?) And if the Buellers then won't take him in, that might make Cameron very bitter toward Ferris. And he might then be willing to drop the dime on Ferris, telling Rooney what he knows.

And yet, Cameron is thinking that, maybe, just maybe, he and his father can talk this out rationally. And, if not? Then he still looks ready to face the fear.

Think about what Cameron has spent most of the movie doing: Believing himself to be sick, thinking of reasons not to do things (both the small, going out at all; and the large, Ferris and Sloane getting married on the fly), twitching, sniffling, pounding the seat of his dinky little car (which, in one of the rare moments where a censoring actually improves the script, Ferris, in the TV-altered version, calls "a piece of tin" rather than "a piece of shit"), worrying that Ferris is going to get caught, finally kicking his father's car.

The only time Cameron seems even slightly confident is when Ferris tells him he's doing great in impersonating Sloane's father over the phone. But in this denouement, Ferris -- being a standup guy for the first time in the film -- is willing to take the fall for Cameron, telling him, "You don't want this kind of heat." And Cameron says, "I want it."

He's still scared. But courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is looking fear dead in the eye, and saying, "To hell with you, I'm moving forward, and you won't stop me."

There it is. Cameron is ready to be, if not Oedipus (he doesn't seem to like his mother much, either), then Luke Skywalker, using the Force that he has found within himself, becoming the mentor he wished he could be, so that he can not only face his big bad father, but to turn his father away from the Dark Side, to find the good that is still within him. (In this analogy, the Ferrari is the X-Wing fighter, and the garage is the Death Star.)

But, ultimately, Ferris and Cameron are not Tyler Durden and the never-named narrator of Fight Club, respectively. Nor are they Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga.

A closer parallel is to a movie that, like FBDO and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, is one of my all-time top 5: They are V and Evey Hammond of V for Vendetta. Ferris certainly lives up to the Macbeth line that V quotes to Evey: "I dare do all that may become a man. Who dares more is none." The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout" and the paintings in the Museum aren't exactly banned, and Ferris only takes Cameron to the top of the city's best-known building, rather than enlisting his help in destroying it.

But as V did with Evey, Ferris has put Cameron into a position where he can truly see what's possible, but has also put him in a position where everything he held dear was at stake, and now he's learned how to conquer his fear.

Which, I suppose, makes Jeanie, the antagonist who realizes she's been on the wrong side all along, Inspector Eric Finch. But does that make Rooney Chancellor Adam Sutler? No, Rooney's not particularly cruel. Although the school may well end up "being buried beneath the avalanche of (his) inadequacies," so maybe he's Party Leader Peter "Creepy" Creedy. (Rooney's portrayer, Jeffrey Jones, did turn out to be rather creepy in real life.)

And, as with V for Vendetta, it's not a man, not even "the system," but our own apathy, and our own fear of enjoying life, that is the true villain of the movie.

When Cameron stands there in the garage, surveying the shattered glass on the floor, and the banjaxed Ferrari in the ravine, he's done being what he was. He's no longer a sniveling, quivering, pathetic mess who needs a hero to prop him up. The process of propping up is done. He's ready, willing and able to face his father. He's ready to become the hero he's always wanted to be, to save the person he's always needed to save: Himself.

After all, while V killed most of the bad guys, and lured Sutler to his doom by Creedy's hand, he and Creedy ended up killing each other. Which left it to Evey to carry out V's mission. Like V, Ferris "dies"; like Evey, Cameron must become his mentor/tormentor.

Only in his case, if you presume the movie takes place all in Cameron's mind, then it goes farther than Evey's case: Cameron must "kill Ferris" in order to "become Ferris." Only by eliminating this part of himself can he be truly whole, and be what he wants to be.

Which doesn't mean that you should face your fear by blowing up a government building (like in V for Vendetta or in Fight Club), or by destroying your father's car and garage (like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off).

But each of us comes to a time when we have to face our fears. We can move forward, and risk success, or failure. Or we can refuse to face the fear, and let it consume us.

Cameron chose to take the risk.


In case you're wondering, of my top 5 all-time favorite movies, the two I haven't yet mentioned are Casablanca and Midnight Run. Two movies with little in common, except that, in the latter, Charles Grodin is Victor Laszlo (the wanted man), and Robert De Niro is Rick Blaine (the slick operator who's a haunted man, facing the woman he once loved, and ultimately deciding to return to being a patriot to the human race). 

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