I feel like this is a cliché whose truth I’ve only recently started to discover and appreciate, but there’s just something about ’80s movies. I’ve had a lot of time to myself for the past month, just hibernating and spending my time absorbing everything I can get my hands on, and a lot of that time has been eaten up just watching the classics. Whether I’m returning to them or just seeing them for the first time, I find that these movies have a kind of purity (?) to them that’s not so easy to find anymore. That sounds like a typically infuriating statement of sighing nostalgia that I would normally roll my eyes at, but I feel like there was just something about that era that allowed for a kind of untouchable simplicity. Less anxiety, I guess? A smaller world? I can’t put my finger on it.
I mentioned The Breakfast Club (by all standards, the ultimate ’80s movie) to a family friend recently and she said, “that movie perfectly captured the ’80s.” She was around and conscious of her surroundings, so I guess she knew what she was talking about, but I wondered what that meant. How can such a contained story capture an entire generation, an entire decade! How did John Hughes manage that exactly? I’ve seen the movie three times now, and I guess what’s amazing about it is that it’s considered the classic high school movie without actually ever including a school day in session. I read somewhere that it’s Hughes’ No Exit, his own infinitely more relatable version of Sartre’s play in which people are essentially thrown together in one room as punishment and just have to deal with the unpleasantness of being stuck with humans they don’t really like. Except Hughes deals with social stereotypes. They go in unable to stand each other and they come out with the understanding that those stereotypes are just that, that everyone has hidden burdens and insecurities, and that just living life as they are is a fundamentally uniting experience. They get high and dance around the library. They sit around in a circle and talk about their special talents, about how they’re all bizarre in their own ways. And then 80% of them emerge as unlikely couples (POOR BRIAN). Blah blah blah world peace, except it’s not clichéd at all. But still, how does this capture an entire era?? Maybe I’m just trying to intellectualize it too much, and maybe its perfection is in its general universality—the idea that we all catalog and compartmentalize ourselves in order to understand our place in the world, so sure of its inherent hierarchy, that we fail to realize how similar we are.
Another movie, another third-party observation that I’d like to muse on in my vain attempt to understand how these movies are so wonderful. I watched Ferris Bueller a while ago with my brother, and he said that it was a quintessential example of middle class complacency in the Reagan era (the economy was doing well, the country wasn’t involved in any major wars, etc.)—as in, Ferris Bueller don’t give a shit because hey, it’s ALL GOOD MON. No worries. We can take the day off! There isn’t any ANGST there, no disturbance beneath the surface. We aren’t bombarded by a constant torrent of outside concerns. When Sloan asks Cameron about THE FUTURE, he basically shrugs his shoulders. He isn’t interested in anything, and neither is she. They throw up their hands and laugh, content to watch Ferris take over the city with his musical number for no particular reason (see a particular favorite movie-inspired-by-’80s-movies of mine, Easy A). The message: carpe diem. Stop and smell the roses, guys, because hey, life is damn short.
OK I don’t have a conclusion but this is intense thesis-level speculation, alright?? If I ever make a movie as good as these, consider everything figured out.
P.S. Can we just stop and appreciate Molly Ringwald and Jennifer Grey for a moment?