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Moving Pictures Vol. 33: An Imperfect Place

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Logan’s Moving Pictures turns to one of Ryan’s favorite films – John Hughes’ masterpiece, The Breakfast Club.

One of the things I wish Ryan and I had done at some point was sit down and make a list of our all-time favorite films. I know for a fact I’ve podcasted about mine on several occasions, so it’s out there in the ether (and I may write about them all for the column over time). But, when it comes to Ryan’s favorites, I’d really only be guessing. Educated guesses for sure, but guesses nonetheless. He loved Tarantino, so I’d bet that Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 would be high up there, but I believe he liked his earlier writing better, which would probably land True Romance higher than either of them. Then, of course, there’s the Star Wars of it all; his love of the Galaxy Far, Far Away was certainly substantial (we started a podcast about it), but I don’t think either of us would say they were in our top five. Ditto our adoration of comic-based cinema…though X-Men 2 may be the exception.

If I had to give you an answer as to what my brother’s absolute favorite movie was though, in a second I’d tell you it was The Breakfast Club. If he were still here and I could ask him myself, even if he gave me a different answer, I think I’d argue with him that he’s wrong. There’s just no way The Breakfast Club isn’t his favorite film. I’m pretty sure he watched it so much in our teenage years that he could just act it out scene by scene. He could tell you the replacement dialogue for the curses in the edited-for-television version, and he could probably tell you where the commercial breaks usually were.

I’m not sure why that Masters of the Universe lunchbox isn’t on my desk, but I still have it.

That’s how we first saw the seminal classic, of course, and eventually there was a bootleg VHS tape that got worn down to nothing by playing on rewind and repeat. What’s really funny (to me at least) is if I had to tell you the difference between Ryan and myself by using a cinema that we love, the two big Brat Pack movies of 1985 would be the analogs. Ryan is The Breakfast Club and I am undoubtably St. Elmo’s Fire, a film we’ll talk about another time.

You’d think, being his (maybe) favorite film, The Breakfast Club would have been at the top of the list for this column, but truly it wasn’t one I really ever thought of until a few days ago. I’d taken his daughter, Kaysi, with me to Wal-Mart, where we had a rare moment of us truly getting along and having fun. I say rare because, since Ryan passed I’ve tried to be more present in her life, to help when she needs it, even if she doesn’t want it. Often it’s come across in all the wrong ways, and having never been in those shoes for anyone else, I sometimes just fail at it. We’re also a lot alike, so while iron may sharpen iron, it’s bound to create some sparks.

As I said, we were having a moment, a good one, talking about all manner of things, joking, wasting money on crap we didn’t need, snacks we shouldn’t eat (though we did decide on chicken Caesar salads for dinner that night), and, of course, listening to music in the car. One of the songs that came up on my Spotify was a not-great cover of (Don’t You) Forget About Me. Immediately she started talking about The Breakfast Club, and all of the shows she’s watched in her life that have done their own little riff on the film. Like her Dad before her, she was professing her love for the John Hughes classic.

When we got back to the house I decided to look for it to stream, not wanting to dig out the DVD from Ryan’s cabinets, and was pleasantly surprised to see it on Hulu. I started it up and we listened to the beginning as we put away the groceries and made our salads for dinner. We settled in just about the time the screw was falling out of the library door (they really do fall out all the time), not really watching the movie but discussing it, the actors, and other films of the era…just, really great conversation. Eventually, her mom came home and joined the discussion, and while definite plans weren’t made, Kaysi voiced her desire to watch all of the films her parents grew up adoring, most especially those teen comedies.

We joked about which characters represented us in the movie, and we both landed on the fact that she is very much the John Bender type. And while I’m sure she sees me now as more of the authoritarian Vernon type, when I was her age I was definitely the Brian. Only without the looks or the smarts. Maybe a little of Alison thrown in, what with my anti-socialness and all. It was the rare truly good time for us. Those have gotten less and less in the years since Ryan passed. A lot of that is on me, but, some of it’s because she’s now a teenager and is dealing with all of the things that come with that, on top of the trauma of losing her father at a young age.

Our own personal Breakfast Club.

That’s not something we’ve ever talked about, which is also on me. Part of that is because I just don’t talk about it with anyone really. It’s still a fresh wound, and with those it just takes just a little bit of wrong movement, or scratching a little too hard at the small scab that’s formed, and you’re bleeding all over the place again. I think, unfortunately, that’s the case for most of the adults in her life, and it took watching The Breakfast Club to make me realize that.

When we watched it as pre-teens, they were just kids we either idolized or kind of identified with…or maybe hoped we would or wouldn’t become in some cases. Watching it now I see a group of kids who are dealing as best they know how with the trauma that’s been inflicted and passed on to them by the adults in their lives and the world at large. It’s something writer/director John Hughes truly understood, and he really does his best to encapsulate it in the scene where they all break down why they’re in detention.

Brian is there because he brought a gun to school, possibly to kill himself because he failed his shop class. Claire is there because she skipped school to go shopping. Bender is there because he pulled the fire alarm. Andrew is there because he physically bullied a kid in the locker room. Allison is there…well, she gives multiple reasons, but the last answer she offers up is because she didn’t have anything better to do. All of those answers are factually correct, but the truth is much, much deeper.

There so much going on here, but all I see is the Atari cartridge…

Brian’s parents “can’t have an F,” and he’s felt such intense pressure not to fail he thinks of taking his own life. Claire is caught in a war between her parents, each one desperate for her to choose them, so they’re buying her love. Bender’s home life is so abusive that he brings that anger and rage to school and acts out in any way he can. Andrew is under such pressure from his father to win at any cost that he decides to take his anger out on someone who can’t fight back. Allison is so lonely and desperate for the attention she doesn’t have at home that she comes to school on a Saturday for detention she doesn’t have.

None of their problems are exaggerated for dramatic effect. We’ve all known these kids, multiple versions of each. A lot of us have been these kids. A lot of us are currently parenting, co-parenting, or just in and out of the lives of kids like this. And, I think we’d say the same things that the parents of these kids would say when asked why their having problems, “We’re doing the best we can.” And then we’d probably blame it all on the kids.

My Dad (and Mom behind him) having breakfast. He loved that dark Karo syrup.

The question of “Will you become like your parents?” is asked (I’m paraphrasing), to which most of the Club is adamant they won’t. It’s Allison who says “It’s inevitable, when you grow up your heart dies.” That’s a bit dramatic, in true teenager fashion (even if Sheedy wasn’t a teenager), but I think there’s also a lot of truth to the sentiment. It’s so easy to lose track of what you thought was important as a kid, most of which really wasn’t important, only to replace it with things that are just as unimportant when you become an adult.

But some of it was important, beyond measure. Misguided, most definitely, but so very important. And that so much of that falls away as we get older is tragedy on a level we can’t even comprehend. Caring so much about so many things…most of us just lose that.

For all its juvenile antics, melodramatic scenarios, and stereotypical characters, The Breakfast Club is a near-perfect representation of generational trauma, a phrase that wasn’t even in the lexicon when it made its debut. And while we’re all doing the best we can, even when we fail and we’re being horrible people, the best we can hope for is that the kids we leave in our wake know that we did try our best and that they find a way to be better.

Moving Pictures will be back in two weeks.

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