I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986) for the first time in years last night and I was amazed with what I saw. Aside from being an incredible movie that has, for the most part, stood the test of time, FBDO had a very interesting twist in it. I discovered that Ferris was in fact the Villain of the film!
There are two very distinct plots in FBDO. The first is the story of the Hero, Cameron Frye, a teen without a backbone and no ambition. The B plot is the story of Ferris Beuller, a brash teen who seems to have life exactly where he wants it and is able to get away with anything he puts his mind to. A great screenplay has a Hero who suffers through a difficult character arc before reaching the end of the film. The title character, Ferris goes through the entire film having a good time. He is no different at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. A film’s Hero is expected to have a character arc where they learn something about themselves, life and the world around them. Ferris really doesn’t do any of this. Cameron however, learns a huge life lesson during the film thus making him the Hero of the story. Ferris is Cameron’s Villain as it is Ferris desire to enjoy life opposes Cameron’s desire to just let life pass him by.
When we look at the Nine Story Beats we see that they are spaced much closer together than they are in other films. This is because Ferris’ plot takes up a lot of room at the beginning and the end of the film. We focus on Ferris during the Opening Scene to get the audience hooked. They’re asking, is this kid going to get away with skipping school? Within the opening sequence Ferris does tell the audience the theme of the film when he opens the curtains to his bedroom and says they he simply can’t waste such a beautiful day.
The Inciting Incident occurs when Ferris calls Cameron and the Hero is sick in bed, refusing to go anywhere. The First Plot Point actually happens when Cameron gets in his car and decides to go over to the Bueller’s house. Ferris applies a lot of pressure on Cameron, but ultimately it is Cameron’s decision to get out of bed and drive over to his friend’s place.
We get into the second act and the First Central Obstacle happens when they return to Cameron’s house because they need the Ferrari to get Sloane out of class. The Villain (Ferris) applies enough force on the Hero (Cameron) and Cameron folds, allowing Ferris to drive the Ferrari. We get to the Midpoint of the story at the Ballpark because it is here the Cameron’s starts to loosen up and actually starts to enjoy himself. The Second Central Obstacle happens after the three pick up the Ferrari and are driving away when they notice the extra 200 miles on the car. This sends our hero into a catatonic state for the next three minutes. At the Second Plot Point, Cameron has recovered from is shock and near drowning and he tells Ferris that he’s had the best day of his life.
The third act of the story is very short and happens completely in one location, the Frye’s garage. Cameron sees that the mileage is not coming off the Ferrari and he gets scared that his father is going to come down hard on him. Ferris offers to admit to Cameron’s father that it’s his fault but Cameron refuses his offer and says he will face his father. In a moment of stress relief Cameron starts to kick the Ferrari’s front end causing a lot of damage and almost knocking the car off the jack holding up the still spinning back wheels. With the car nearly ready to break free of the jack Cameron leans on the car, causing both the Climax and the car to suddenly race through the back window of the garage and down the forested ravine behind the garage. Ferris sums it up with the words, “You killed the car.”
Cameron’s life has been changed by this one single day. We imagine later that evening Cameron and his father would have a huge fight about the car and Cameron would (hopefully) stand up to his father. As the audience we never get to see the outcome and it’s summed up on the lawn between Ferris and Sloane. The chase at the end as well as Rooney catching Ferris on the backdoor, while exciting, is just fluff because nothing happens, Jeanie saves Ferris giving him time to get into bed in time.
With Cameron’s main story finished we now follow Ferris as he races home. Raising the stakes his sister Jeanie almost runs Ferris over as he runs across the street and she needs to get home before Ferris does. The race is on. Ferris reaches the back door and lifts the throw mat to grab the key to find it gone. Standing over him is Principal Rooney who has spent the entire film trying to track down Ferris. The two face-off a moment before Jeanie opens the back door and covers for Ferris allowing him to get to his bedroom before his parents discovering him missing. The Closing Scene shows Ferris once again getting away with his bad behavour never learning from it, but in one of the last lines of the film he tells the audience that they need to enjoy life and not just let it pass by.
This film is a great example of the screenwriting of the great John Hughes. He wraps two very different plots into a single film that goes by so seamlessly. If you have never seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I recommend downloading it during your next Day Off.