Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship as told by Ferris Bueller

When I was a kid, we only had a dozen or so DVDs, and in the age where Netflix movies took up to a week to arrive, those DVDs were viewed over and over again. My favorite was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a John Hughes’ film released in 1986. It is the story of a charismatic high-school senior (played by Matthew Broderick) who orchestrates an intricate plot to foil the principal of his suburban Chicago school, so that he, his best friend, Cameron, and his girlfriend, Sloane, can run wild through the city on a gorgeous spring day. They spend their “day off” driving around Chicago in Cameron’s father’s prized red Ferrari. Checking out a Cub game, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and the observation deck atop the Sears Tower, and participating in the German American Von Steuben Parade. Although on the surface the comedy seems like nothing more than a kindly ode to ditching school, there are plenty of deeper issues that are divulged: Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane wrestle with parental pressure, societal conformity, and the bittersweet feelings that flavor the end of high school, and knowing that change is just around the corner. In this sense, I think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off perfectly encapsulates friendship in a genuine way. Indeed, the friendship portrayed throughout the movie seems to be very inline with what we’ve learned about in class, what makes a strong friendship and what bonds people together. As the group of three travel around the city together, partaking in Chicago’s culture and simply enjoying being with each other (sharing not only meals but secrets, fears, etc.,) they learn and bond and create deep connections with one another, making us as viewers feel like we ourselves are right there with them. As C.S Lewis says in his book The Four Loves, “Affection opens our eyes to goodness we could not have seen, or should not have appreciated without it.” (NOTE: C.S Lewis did not find friendship necessary and had very differing views on friendship than I do, but nonetheless I like this quote on affection, and think it can be applied to friendship, as one aspect of friendship is being kind and loving to people!) The affection and love seen between Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron was one in which really played a part in teaching me what true friendship and companionship looked like.

One interesting fact about the movie is that the actor’s who played the two main characters, the two best friends of the film, were already friends in real life. Indeed, to play Ferris’s hypochondriac friend Cameron, John took Broderick’s advice and auditioned an actor who was already a friend of Matthew’s onstage and off. Although he was twenty-nine years old (which caused immediate trepidation with filmmakers), his youthful looks and connection to Broderick won Ruck the role. Said Ruck on his relationship with Broderick, “We didn’t have to invent an instant friendship like you often have to do in a movie. We were friends. We were easy with each other, and we shared a particular sense of humor. So it just worked.” Remembers Broderick, “We shared the same trailer. [Ruck] had a teeny trailer, and I had a huge one, so right away he moved into mine.”

So how can we apply an 80s romcom to international relations? Exactly how we apply any form of friendship to international relations! Just like friendship between real people, or people in movies, friendship between countries and governments should show affection and tenderness (as much as possible/reasonable) toward one another. They should bond over shared culture, and experience different/each other’s cultures together as well. They should be vulnerable with one another, and share and relish in each other’s differing identities. As Ferris and Cameron are as different than Amir and Hassan from the Kite Runner as they get (I mean, it’s hard to really compare Afghanistan and Chicago…), they too (just like most friends) are not exactly alike, and learn to bond and cherish each other’s differences- a key importance in international relations. In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, Ferris gets up on a float and lip synchs to Danke Shoen and Twist and Shout, and the crowd goes absolutely wild. They dance together and it seems as though every person in Chicago is happy. Ferris makes it look so simple, and part of me thinks maybe it is…

Although John Hughes made great movies about adults (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) and children (Home Alone), Hughes will forever be associated with teenagers, and his movies that brought a unique perspective to the lives of America’s youth, and which revolutionized the adolescent film genre. These films permanently changed how Hollywood makes and markets teen movies, but also, these movies made a great sociological impact, changing the way many young people think about not only friendship, but love, sex, class distinction, music, and even fashion. Teens related to his movies because John took their problems seriously, and his movies continue to impact films today (he taught Hollywood that well-made, witty, poignant, dramatic entertainment that doesn’t condescend young people is worth making). I believe I’ve genuinely shaped my experience with friendship on Ferris Bueller and Hughes’s other movies. The deeper narrative of his films speaks to the timeless of elements of the teen experience with friendship— questioning one’s belonging and identity speaks to the heart of what it means to truly be an adolescent and a friend to others. It’s the reason that so many teenagers today still watch Hughes’ movies and can quote their lines by heart.


Notes from Friendship Class, 4/17 and 4/19

Lewis, C.S. “The Four Loves.” Friendship: Philosophic Reflections on a Perennial Concern, by Philip Blosser and Marshell Carl. Bradley, University Press of America, 1997.

Jaime Clarke, Don’t You Forget About Me, (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007)

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