<em>“Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.”</em>
—Dick Vernon, assistant principal, Shermer High School.
I can see those that were in the conversation as if it were this morning. It was the first day back from Christmas break, January of 1986. A group of weirdo kids sitting in the lunchroom of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts discussing the film “The Breakfast Club”, which had come out in theaters the year before.
For those who are unfamiliar with this film, allow me to give you a synopsis of the plot. Five high school kids show up for a Saturday detention session. They fight with each other, but also learn about each other as the day goes on. The film was a well-loved film when it premiered that grew a huge following after the film’s home video release.
The five students who sat in the school library that seminal Saturday were:
John Bender: The school bad boy. A bully who antagonizes the rest of the group as well as the supervisor of the detention, assistant principal Dick Vernon.
Brian Johnson: The uber-smart nerd who cannot construct a lamp.
Andrew Clark: The super jock who is pressured by his father to excel.
Claire Standish: The rich princess who has a grotesque sense of entitlement.
Allison Reynolds: The “basket case” who shows up to detention because she has nothing better to do.
When the discussion about The Breakfast Club I was involved with came to pass, I was a bored sophomore with bad acne and a tendency to anger everyone with my blunt critiques on any subject that came to the fore. Thankfully, my acne cleared up. I remember vividly that I did not take part in this conversation until the subject of a sequel to the film was raised.
“There won’t be a sequel,” I interjected, disdainfully. My six schoolmates all disagreed. This was one of the early cases that lead to my notorious reputation for being a contrarian. Maybe it was because of my presence in this discussion alone, but my proclamation raised the ire of the others. There had to be a sequel, the collective reasoning went, because we needed to know what happened on Monday. There was no way the people who gave us this film would leave us hanging with so many unanswered questions.
My argument—and it somehow became a heated argument between us—was that no justice to the story or the characters could be done in a sequel. My thesis was that if the movie was to truly represent how teeangers during that time saw the future, it would only be a gigantic disappointment. And so, any film, regardless if the characters had a happy ending—or stayed friends—would be guaranteed to be a gigantic disappointment.
It was better for the movie to end as it did, with John Bender walking into the Unknown, fist raised high in the air in defiance. Any information about the charter members of The Breakfast Club after their detention would have killed the mystery that many of us who passionately love this film hold dear…much like old photographs or a high school yearbook.
Nearly three decades later, I can remember every detail of that fantastic argument from that miserable winter’s day. Such was the influence that that wonderful film had on us teenagers at the time. The Breakfast Club not only spoke to us, it spoke for us.
When The Breakfast Club was released in February of 1985, its writer/director John Hughes had made a name for himself the previous year with the film “Sixteen Candles.” As is, that was a cute film with some great scenes. The reason that film took off was that it was heavily promoted on MTV. Despite having been around for three years, no one really knew how much sway MTV had with young people. Sixteen Candles was the barometer that showed how much MTV could sell anything hip and cool to young people.
Despite being in his mid-30’s, Hughes had a deft ear when it came to how teenagers in the 80’s talked and interacted. Being a teen during those years I can tell you plainly that none of us who saw those films mimicked the verbiage and vernacular of Hughes’s teenage characters. They mimicked us. Hughes was spot on.
The fact that Hughes was so good at identifying the traits, quirks and foibles of teenagers during that era always leads to the same question that has been asked many times. Which member of The Breakfast Club were/are you?
My answer has remained steadfastly consistent for a long time. I was everyone but Claire.
I hate to admit this, but I was most like John Bender. I could be a vulgar, bomb throwing jerk who got in trouble just because I could. Good thing I matured and am not like that anymore, eh? I was kicked out of my first two high schools for disciplinary problems. I had “issues.”
I empathized quite a bit with Brian. I was very smart and would have been a disaster if I had ever taken Shop. Not only would I have received an F for failing to properly make a lamp, but I probably would have accidentally blown up the shop, killing dozens. No human should be as mechanically-challenged as I have been my whole life.
My senior year in high school I was like Andrew Clark. I played varsity soccer and baseball. Like the other athletes, I pretty much had carte blanche to police the hallways and go to class when and if I felt like it. We never bullied anyone. We essentially kept the bad kids, aka the John Benders, from bullying the weaker kids. Benevolent jocks. Rare.
I could be like Allison. There were many days when I felt like an outsider who sat in the corner away from everyone. I also would use language to upset the popular kids. And, like Allison, I once showed up to detention just because I had nothing better to do.
I never could get Claire. To this day I sneer at women with a “queen bee” mentality. Claire was played by Molly Ringwald to near perfection. After three decades and countless viewings of The Breakfast Club, I still call Claire names that cannot be printed in this column. I won’t ever cry a single tear for her.
And we know that once the allure of using Bender to rile her parents wore off that she would have dumped him like a pair of out-of-style shoes. To be fair, Andrew would not have lasted too long with Allison. Pulling her hair back and putting on some make-up would not have rectified Allison’s attachment issues. And Brian? He would have went off to Princeton and never would have come back for any of the class reunions.
On one Saturday in March, these five kids could relate to each other. When Monday came, they would have went their separate ways in a cold, unflinching moment of fear. It would have been morbid to watch. It would have been heartbreaking for us who love this film and these characters to witness.
And that’s why we should be grateful there never was a sequel.