When it was released in 1986, Ferris Bueller's Day Off was unquestionably a hit. The team up of John Hughes and Matthew Broderick introduced us to one of the modern era's most endearing and engaging characters. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film was how it spoke to people of all ages about making life better through the vehicle of an illicit day off school and a "borrowed" Ferrari.
It's amazing how many life lessons can be learned through this movie, here are some of the best.
5. Life Moves Pretty Fast
The iconic line of the movie tells us that it's important to take time to enjoy the moment, enjoy your friends and not worry about the negatives that could result. In Ferris's case, he is very much in the "in crowd" at school and has a test that could potentially make or break his graduation, but decides that a day with his friends is more important. While he frames this day off out of concern for Cameron, in reality, it is Ferris who needs this day.
For most of us, the occasional "sickie" is something that we've all done. Of course, if you get caught going to a ball game or singing on a parade float after calling your boss, you're likely to be fired. Still, now more than ever, mental health is something employers look at.
Ferris takes what is now called a "mental health day" — one that no doubt will help him become more productive and happier. Some companies have even learned this lesson and actively encourage these days to be taken. While there is a long way to go until "How can I possibly be expected to handle school/work on a day like today?" is an acceptable reason to call in, the idea of a Ferris Day isn't instantly a bad thing anymore!
4. Anyone Can Fall From Grace
One of the greatest lessons of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is, in fact, taught to Ed Rooney rather than Ferris or the audience. This lesson is that self-importance and inflexibility will inevitably lead to breaking the rules yourself — and then your downfall.
Rooney starts the day in complete control of his life and the school, yet ends it humiliated in front of his students, physically battered and even a criminal, having broken into a student's home. Such was Rooney's sense of self-importance and belief in his rules that he actually believed he was above the rules of society. Yet each time he breaks a societal rule, he is slapped down in increasingly embarrassing fashion.
First, his off-hand, cocky manner gets him in trouble over Sloane's dead grandmother (although his instinct was right in this scenario). At the arcade, his attempts to be clever see him covered in soda, before finally deciding not only should he show up at the Bueller home, but that he is entitled to enter it through the doggie door, in effect committing a felony burglary.
Of course, these moments are played for laughs. It could be argued the beating he receives from Jeannie, wounding by the dog, losing his car and having to take that walk of shame on the bus, knowing that he can never again face his "nemesis," will teach him and authority figures everywhere a lesson.
Even now we see people in positions of power regularly abuse that authority — and not just in schools. The tale of Ed Rooney should be must-learn for anyone who is in power. Never let that position become who you are or decide defending that power at all costs is valid, because the way down will be painful and humiliating if you do.
3. Never Judge A Book
Perhaps one of the most interesting arcs in Ferris Bueller is that of Jeannie, Ferris's straight-laced sister. Thanks to some cuts, we never quite see that she was intended to be the middle child (there are two younger kids cut from the film) and a year younger than Ferris. She doesn't enjoy his coolness or popularity, in fact, she is pretty much invisible in the school, something that clearly makes her angry and unhappy. Add to this the perceived "golden boy" status Ferris enjoys at home and you have, as Grace calls her, "a little asshole."
However, Jeannie is, in many ways, the hero of the story as she both learns and teaches a valuable lesson about not judging people.
Jeannie spends most of the movie judging others: if they like Ferris, she hates them, as she sees him as her enemy rather than her brother. As the movie progresses, she, like Rooney, wants to "catch him out," until she realizes the lengths Rooney has gone to in order to trap her brother. Not only does she knock him out, but she phones the police. Again, she is treated as invisible, pulled in to the station for a fake call. Like Rooney, her desire to destroy Ferris has brought her to her lowest point, being collected from the police station by her mother.
While there, she meets Garth (played by Charlie Sheen), who, judging by appearance, is someone she doesn't want anything to do with. She is first antagonistic, but he cuts her down and for the first time, she spells out what her problem with Ferris actually is, in the process teaching her that she is her own person and she's chosen to live in Ferris's shadow by being resentful. She judged Garth and was proven wrong. She gets the chance to show that she is not the bitter person she seems, covering for Ferris when all was lost for him. She also adds the coup de grace to Rooney in the process, making clear if he comes back, she can report his break in and end his career.
Jeannie's arc teaches us that it doesn't matter who you were and why you felt that way, it's what you do now and in future that matters, and that judging people by how they look or behave means you might be missing out on a valuable relationship. Indeed, the irony is that Jeannie indeed does "Save Ferris."
2. Take Responsibility For Your Actions
Cameron is Ferris Bueller's most fascinating character and arguably has the most important lesson of all to learn. Early in the film, he refuses to take any responsibility for his actions, claiming Ferris has been getting him to do dumb stuff since childhood. He even insinuates that "he'll keep calling me" is a valid excuse for what he is doing. He's probably used that one with his parents for years to avoid taking the rap for anything.
When things get "real" and they are prank calling Rooney, Cameron doesn't want the responsibility, but he is clearly having fun doing it. When given the smallest excuse, he threatens to walk away like a child.
Then there's the biggest "misdeed" Cameron undertakes: he allows his father's car to be used. He alone is to blame for its destruction, but even Cameron can't fail to admit by the end that he "had fun" doing it. He takes responsibility for his part in it by "taking the heat" from his father for the destruction of a prized car.
Cameron's lesson teaches us that bottling fear and loathing of responsibilities and using them as an excuse to never live will only end badly. He was so uptight that the only way he could eventually expel that rage and frustration was to destroy something that he felt was more valuable to his father than he was.
We can all get to the stage where we want to explode and hurt the people we care about most rather than talk about our feelings to them. While you get the sense Cameron would be OK, you also get the sense that his parents would have no clue he ever had a problem. Ultimately, Cameron teaches the audience that they need to face their emotions responsibly and take responsibility when things go awry.
1. What's The Worst That Can Happen?
Perhaps the most uplifting thing about Ferris Bueller's Day Off is how many other people outside of Ferris, Sloane and Cameron have a great day as a result of their escapades.
Like the children in the museum who got to interact with some older kids and who probably told their parents how fun it was, the crowd responding to Ferris's dance routine in the parade, Ferris's fun is infectious. Even his own father, who can't help but have a quick dance in his office or get an ego boost from having a hot girl checking him out in a cab (having no clue his own son is the reason), gets in on the fun.
Another is the valet: he and his buddy spend an hour cruising in a car he'd never get to drive, but he returns it, undamaged, and have a great time. Do they actually do anything different than Cameron and Ferris have done? No. Did they have their day made? Yes!
Indeed, you could say that the only people who have a bad day are those who deserve one: Rooney, Jeannie, the Maitre D. Even Ferris's schoolmates come together in a unified cause, albeit a misguided one. When he shows up well in a day or two, they'll be nothing other than happy to see him.
Ferris's day off teaches us it's OK to take joy in what others around you are doing, even if you don't know them. If someone starts singing on the subway, sing along rather than cringe or tell them to shut up. If there's something fun going on like a street performer, why not take some time and get involved? Most of all it teaches us "Have Fun — What's The Worst That Can Happen?"
So did I miss any other lessons? Let me know in the comments below!