"Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while you could miss it," said Ferris Bueller, the fictional iconoclastic lead character in the eponymous film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, during his opening monologue. Matthew Broderick's quintessentially disenfranchised Reagan-era youth taught life lessons in an epic Senior Ditch Day that still ring true as June 18, the 30th anniversary of the film's release, approaches. If ever there were a reason to play hooky, it is June 18 as Ferris intended.
Filmmaker John Hughes captured Generation X's coming of age in perfectly penned archetypal characters that brought to life the '80s in a delightful and comedic tone. With hits such as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, Hughes reflected the identity struggles of a boom era that left independent thinkers in cultural limbo. His films were a beacon to middle-class kids that did not want to become money-hungry yuppies that they were not alone, while Ferris Bueller's Day Off drew them a roadmap out of the rat race.
The film skillfully dismantled the false narrative of "selfish, lazy youth" - unfair labels which should resonate with the Millennials of today. As the children of the "Me Generation" were coming of age, they had been taught the need for material insistence over meaningful existence. For the post-global financial crisis generation, the same need has rung true.
Fewer youths today are working towards asset acquisition and marriage. Study after study shows that Millennials prefer experience above all. Bueller's ditch day was more than a mere junket around Chicago. With little money in hand, a group of high-schoolers visit the top of the Sears Tower, the stock market, the museum to see Picasso and Seurat, dance to the Beatles while crashing a parade and fine-dine at Chez Quis -- hardly teenage dream outings. They play hooky with a purpose and Bueller teaches that the act of exploration is the key to the pursuit of happiness. More than a teen flick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a roadmap that is still relevant today. Life coaching before the loathsome term "life coach" ever became a thing.
Chief antagonist, Principal Rooney put it best, "What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is he gives good kids bad ideas." Amid the societal pressures to "fit in," Ferris is fervently an individual.
Contrast best friend, Cameron Frye, who embodies the lost sheep who has always played by the rules. A hypochondriac, Cameron suffers from chronic stress-induced illnesses from growing up in a museum-like upper-middle-class home, stuck in a father-son relationship where he feels coerced into following the footsteps of his ladder-climbing parents. Cameron needs to break from the status quo but he does not know how.
Then there is Sloan Peterson, Bueller's one true love. Sloane is caught in the same current as almost every high school senior -- get good grades, go to college, find a job and get married.
Cameron: I don't know what I'm gonna do.
Cameron: Yeah, but to do what?
Sloane: What are you interested in?
Sloane: Me neither!
... He's gonna marry me.
Sloane and Cameron suffer the same disillusionment of their entire generation, each from their own perch. Situationally, little has changed for today's Millennials, except that the disillusionment has translated into action. As more Millennials seek out exotic travel destinations, entrepreneurship and a deeper sense of self, they encompass the very manifesto Cameron lays out towards the film's end:
"I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it," as he proceeds to destroy the prized 1961 Ferrari that his father symbolically loves more than him.
Meanwhile, Sloane learns the confidence to take action as she asks Bueller in a wry tone, "You knew what you were doing when you woke up this morning, didn't you?"
"'-isms' in my opinion are not good - a person should not believe in an '-ism' he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, 'I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me'."
For all the interpretations of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, June 11 is more than the anniversary of its release date. Rather, it marks a new tradition of playing hooky for a greater good. Jump off the merry-go-round to ponder the self. Reconstruct personal identity, question beliefs, ponder life's purpose or simply shut down in order to watch this classic film.
Make June 11th a new holiday that counts.