Saturday. March 24th, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois. 60062.
Dear Mr. Vernon…
It’s been more than three decades since the Breakfast Club met in that gorgeous high school library for Saturday detention. During that long-ago weekend afternoon, wheels were set in motion and the lives of generations of teenagers would never be the same.
I wasn’t even a year old when John Hughes’ tribute to Saturday detention and misfit bonding was originally released in theaters. The movie somehow found me 12 years later when I was a noob teen struggling with adolescence – that maddening bridge between childhood and adulthood.
For the life of me, I can’t remember when I first watched The Breakfast Club. All I know is that upon my first viewing it immediately felt to me like a timeless life raft. Even though the film had been originally released almost a decade and a half prior, no aspect of the story or dialogue felt dated or boring. It was like nothing I had ever seen. It was revolutionary.
From the opening sequence featuring lines from the iconic ‘Breakfast Club’ letter, I was hooked. I loved everything about the film. How quiet and simple it was. The humor. How the story wasn’t propelled forward by any external force, but through the internal revelations that these characters were experiencing by simply interacting with one another.
On March 26th and March 31st, The Breakfast Club will be re-released in theaters to commemorate three decades of changing teenage lives. In homage to the film, here are eight life lessons we all learned from the The Breakfast Club:
Lesson One – Differences should be embraced, not feared
"…we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. Why do you care?"
The five teens in the film are as disparate as possible. These differences make it possible for them to grow and learn from one another. Surrounding oneself with a group of like-minded people is no way to grow and change.
The film encouraged teens to break out of their safe cliques and seek individuals that challenged them in a new and exciting way. Because underneath it all, we’re all the same in our fear of being rejected. Take a chance – reach out to someone else and learn something. Judgment from peers comes from a place of fear, not one of superiority. And if one day you see a princess walking down the hall alongside a basket case, that’s totally cool.
Lesson Two - Don’t be quick to label people
“You see us as you want to see us. In the most convenient terms. The simplest definitions.”
The manifesto that bookended the film helped change the mind of one myopic high school principals, and guided us unmoored teens to a port in what seemed like a never-ending hormonal storm.
Sure, it’s safer to cling to one type of persona throughout the tumultuous teen years, but is that any kind of life? The characters in the film learn that they are complex, distinctive individuals who don’t have to be placed in any one box to survive this life. They can choose to be or do whatever they want – adults and naysayers be damned. Conforming to traditional stereotypes is a waste of life. Go out and find what makes you happy, and do it. Life is way too short for labels.
Lesson Three – Music from the Eighties rocked
“…and these children that you spit on / as they try to change their worlds / are immune to your consultations / they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” – David Mo-Fo-ing Bowie
Believe it or not, this movie introduced me to David Bowie at the ripe old age of 13. Later in life, my appreciation for the legend would grow and mature thanks to my Bowie-fanatic best friend (thanks, Jordan!). Sure, it was just the quote at the beginning of the film, but that beautiful bit of lyrical poetry set the tone for everything that followed, both in the film, and in real teen life. Bowie totally gets it.
In addition, I will always remember Simple Minds as the voice of my angsty and revelatory teenage years – imploring me not to forget about the past as I looked toward a bright and terrifying future. For better or worse, “Don’t You Forget About Me” has a permanent listing on the soundtrack to my soul.
Lesson Four – There’s no wrong way to pack a school lunch
“Well, Brian. This is a very nutritious lunch.” - Bender
The lunch montage in the film is undeniably amazing. Truth be told, my friends and I played the part where Allison frisbeed a slice of mystery meat up onto the sculpture like hundreds of times. And, remember, in a world with only VHS, re-watching took dedication and quick fingers.
Each lunch is more ridiculous than the last – from an entire plate of sushi to a single can of Coke, the entire spectrum of nutrition and taste is represented. The lunch mirrors the theme that every individual has specific tastes and preferences that should be expressed as often and as clearly as possible.
Lesson Five – Saturday detentions were a thing that existed
“…we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong…”
A whole day?! In detention?! Sounds like a nightmare, right? Yet, generations of kids have yearned to be IN a Saturday detention after watching the events of The Breakfast Club unfold. Just kidding… kind of.
Lesson Six – FACT: John Hughes is amazing
Okay, obviously. But let’s just take a minute to talk about how wonderful he was. He brought us masterpieces of teenage angst that continue to hold up as multiple decades pass. I saw The Breakfast Club for the first time almost 15 years after it was released, and the ideas of belonging, idleness, being misunderstood, and fear of failure all still ring true today.
Hughes’ films are timeless in a way that no other filmmaker's are, because they address the central truth and struggle of being a teen. Thanks, John Hughes, for making us feel understood and supported through an uncertain and tumultuous time.
Lesson Seven – It’s totally okay to be a virgin
“Like, excuse me for being a virgin.” - Brian
Virginity should be a personal and private subject, but for some reason teenagers seem to yammer on about that topic until everyone they know “loses it.” I suppose it’s much in the same way that 20-somethings talk incessantly about marriage, or 30-somethings talk about having children. Having sex for the first time is a milestone, sure, but The Breakfast Club taught us that it didn’t have to be a race to the finish line.
If popular beauty Claire could be a virgin, then anything was possible. When pressed by the rest of the group she angrily admits she “never did it,” but eventually owns the virgin title as the movie progresses. Even though you just knew she was eventually going to lose it to bad boy John Bender, she (along with Brian and Allison) embodied the idea of accepting one's sexual history as is, with no regrets.
Lesson Eight – Perspective of teen years as an adult
“My god, are we going to be like our parents?” - Andrew
You know those triggers that can snap you back in time, like the scent of cut grass, or the refrain of a beloved song? This movie has frozen my adolescence in time for me. When I pop it in, I immediately feel all those twisty and complicated feels from my youth, and I am grateful for the ability to instantly travel back to that time in my life.
At the ripe old age of 31, I sometimes catch myself looking at teens with a dismissive eye roll. When I was a teen, I remember feeling so misunderstood by the eye rolling adults of the world, and promised myself I would never become one. Thanks to The Breakfast Club, I’ll always have a touchstone to return to when my eyeballs start to threaten skyward. And you do, too.
Thanks, Breakfast Club, for being the embodiment of true teen spirit (Sorry, Kurt Cobain, but it’s true).
The Breakfast Club can be seen in theaters on Thursday, March 26th and Tuesday, March 31st.