Last night my facebook page was riddled with news of the death of director John Hughes. The mastermind behind some of the most heartfelt and touching film pop-culture moments of my youth is being honored today by about a billion blog posts and news articles. It’s a tribute in itself for Hughes, who directed his first film, Sixteen Candles, when I was twelve years old and just about to enter my prime teen angst years, and thanks to endless viewings on VHS and HBO, his films (and the quotations from them) became the backdrop of my high school experience.
Shermer, Illinois, was a bit more upscale than Raytown, Missouri, but the landscape that mattered in Hughes’ films wasn’t the upper-middle-class homes we saw in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Home Alone, but the landscape of school, with its factions and land mines and unwritten rules.
I decided against ranking his films, since there are things I love about all of them, but I always come back to The Breakfast Club as the strongest and most memorable of his films. Even though Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink are all sorts of brilliant, TBC was the John Hughes movie that had a sense of real anger about the world of high school. That anger was the quality that was missing from his other films that I instinctively picked up on. In his other films, the social divisions between the characters was an obstacle to be overcome, like the Montagues and the Capulets in Shakespeare – character So-and-So falls in love with someone from the Other Side of the Tracks, and must Endure Social Hardships to Achieve Their Goal of Being Together. In TBC, there was no such goal. It wasn’t about love, or romance, or achieving some goal – it was about a group of kids one Saturday morning tearing down the walls that society created around them and connect with each other. There is something very simple and yet revolutionary about that concept, and looking back at it, I’m shocked that a movie studio ever greenlit the thing. While Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink used social division as plot points, and Ferris Beuller merrily floated above and beyond them, The Breakfast Club hated them. I think it’s part of why the movie and the images from it have come to be a shorthand for the career of John Hughes.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Hughes. We won’t forget about you.