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The Breakfast Club Film Journal Essay

This film written and directed by John Hughes follows five students at Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois as they report for Saturday detention in 1984. While not complete strangers, the five are all from different cliques, there’s John Bender “The Criminal,” Claire “The Princess,” Brian “The Brain,” Andy “The Athlete,” and Allison “The Basket Case.” The school’s disciplinary teacher Mr. Vernon gives them all an assignment to write an essay about “who you think you are” and the violations they committed to end up in Saturday detention. They pass the hours in a variety of ways: dancing, harassing each other, telling stories, smoking marijuana, and talking. Gradually they open up to each other and reveal their secrets, for example, Allison is a compulsive liar, and Brian and Claire are ashamed of their virginity and Andy got in trouble because of his overbearing father. They also discover that they all have strained relationships with their parents and are afraid of making the same mistakes as the adults around them. However, despite these evolving friendships, they realize that once the detention is over they will likely return to their respective cliques and never speak to each other again. Clever uses of mis-en-scene can be seen in the framing, setting, and character.

Hughes makes use of both tight and loose framing, for example at the beginning of the movie when the five students are filtering into the library for detention, the camera frame is left large and loose so that we see more than half of the library plus all six characters. Often when it is only one character talking the camera frame will tighten so that the viewer does not see much besides the main subject in the screen. This film is unique in that it does not have an abundance of sets/ locations. The most significant setting is the library where the five students are put for detention, there are a few escapades where the group leaves the library, but it is only for a short amount of time and they always return. For this film it is obvious that Hughes was striving to portray a very genuine and authentic high school story from 1984, as such the sets and props used are very “normal” and realistic with none of the flashy equipment that would be seen in a high school movie from 2013.

I would describe this film as a minimalist film not only for the amount of sets but especially for the character choices, in addition to the five students the number of other characters can be counted on one hand. Even though their detention is being carried out on a Saturday they are at a high school, a place always bustling with people, and yet you never see another student or faculty inside the high school. To me this says Hughes wants your complete attention on those five students, as he is generalizing a whole stereotype into one person I think it is beneficial to see only one character inside that stereotype so as not to see any extraneous exceptions to the rules. In addition to the setting, the characters are impeccably styled for the 1980’s and their attitudes perfectly represent the individual stereotypes each character embodies. Hughes also uses cinematography via light and camera angles. Throughout this movie the characters are consistently filmed using hard lighting, this type of light removes shadow and darkness, the director does this because he wants to expose the truth behind the stereotypes and by using this type of lighting he is able to add another level of exposure. Many camera angles are used in this film, but there is excessive use of wide angle shots, medium close-ups, and close-ups.

For example, when the group is together smoking marijuana a wide shot is used to capture the different actions of each character while they are smoking. The students spend a lot of time verbally harassing each other and anytime they get into a fight Hughes is able to make it even more realistic with the use of medium close-ups. The students get into a spat while sitting on the second floor of the library and to show all five are involved a wide shot is used first, but as soon as John Bender begins talking the camera zooms onto just him and when Claire responds to him the camera moves to her alone. In this way Hughes is mimicking our reaction to a fight we are witnessing, our eyes tend to focus onto the person speaking and as the next person responds our eyes go to them, by cutting to the speaking actor’s face it leads to viewer to believe that they are sitting in the midst of this group and watching the fight occur.

Another interesting thing is that when the students are in the library the shots face downward on them, this represents how they are looked down upon by their parents, teacher, and adults in general. When they are all together the camera is pointed straight and equally at each character, this signifies the newfound equality and similarities they come to realize exists in all of them no matter the clique they are from “what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Lastly, at the very end when Bender throws his arms in the air to declare victory the camera angle is show upward at Bender, symbolizing his/ their rise above the adults by being able to set aside their differences and see each character as they truly are.

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