Study Guide

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)

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Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)

High school senior Ferris Bueller is a teenage anomaly. What's that? It's a fancy way of saying he's an exception to the rule, and in this case the rule is that no high school student can be both wildly popular and beloved by just about everyone. But that's exactly what Ferris is: He's a glitch in the high school matrix.

Rebel Yell

Ferris can get anyway with anything. "He has the basic skills for teen-age success, according to the film," writes Nina Darnton in her New York Times review of the movie. "He can lie, manipulate and con people with inspired genius, especially in the service of a noble cause such as playing hooky." In his rebellion against stodgy adult authority figures like Dean Rooney and the Chez Quis maître d', Ferris presents himself as a lovable rogue.

Ferris also stages a revolt against cinematic conventions. He regularly breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly. So what's the deal with all of the Buellerean soliloquies? First, it's an easy way to engage the audience. Ferris is talking to you, yes, you, Shmooper. Secondly, it suggests that Ferris's mischievous magnetism knows no bounds; his charm leaps right off of the screen and into your popcorn.

Totally Righteous, Dude

Ferris's popularity crosses the treacherous borders of high school cliques, too. "Oh, he's very popular, Ed," Grace explains to Dean Rooney. "The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads—they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude." And it's of little wonder why: Ferris is a total politician. He isn't shaking hands or kissing babies, but he is promising to get puny freshmen out of summer school and is so adored by the English department that they have flowers delivered to his house.

Not only does the whole movie revolve around Ferris, but the entire fictional town of Shermer, Illinois, seems to revolve around him, too. When word somehow gets out that he's sick, his condition takes on epic gravity, culminating in one member of the student body taking up a collection to buy him a new kidney. The town water tower is repainted to proclaim "Save Ferris," too, and when Mrs. Bueller goes down to the police station to pick up Jeanie, Detective Lim asks her to let Ferris know everybody on the force is pulling for him.

Bueller… Ferris Bueller

Reviewer David Bennett writes that Ferris "is the James Bond of adolescents; he's seemingly able to do anything, self-assured and always able to land on his feet no matter how improbable the odds." In other words, he's Teflon to the point that logic is thrown out the window.

When Ferris's social status and crazy-good luck are viewed as fantasy, they become easier to swallow. Ditto for how all of those odds Bennett mentions always seem to be stacked in Ferris's favor. From his parents buying his sick routine ("one of the worst performances of [his] career"), to Ferris surviving not one but two near-misses with his dad in downtown Chicago, to the fact that the real Abe Froman mercifully never shows up at Chez Quis, Ferris leads an incredibly charmed life—you know, even if he still doesn't have a car.

We Know a Cat Who Can Really Do the Cool Jerk

According to John Hughes, "Ferris is the most popular guy in school, a guy with everything going for him, who could be really obnoxious except for the fact that he polices himself" (source). With all due respect to Mr. Hughes—after all, he did write and direct the movie—we're not so sure how well Ferris controls himself. In fact, we'd argue that Ferris is kind of a jerk.

For starters, Ferris straight up harasses Cameron until Cameron agrees to come over. He even drops an ultimatum on him, warning, "If you're not over here in fifteen minutes, you can find a new best friend." Is it a juvenile threat? Sure. Even Cameron thinks so—he laughs and tells Ferris that he's been saying that since they were in elementary school. Still, it's all part of Ferris wearing Cameron down until Ferris gets his way.

What happens when Cameron gives in and comes over? Ferris puts him to work impersonating his girlfriend's dad in order to break his girlfriend out of school. In other words, Ferris has his bestie do his dirty work for him. Then, when Cameron doesn't do it exactly the way Ferris wants, Ferris literally kicks his butt. With a self-centered, pointy-toed friend like Ferris, who needs enemies?

Look, there's no denying that Ferris is a charismatic leader. We're not going to say that he could start his own cult, but look at that grin on your Ferris Bueller's Day Off Blu-ray cover. Then think about how he cons his caring parents, manipulates his best friend into "borrowing" a Ferrari, kills off his girlfriend's grandmother, steals a sausage king's lunch reservation, commandeers a parade float, forces innocent bystanders to listen to Wayne Newton, and convinces that very same BFF that hoisting that very same Ferrari up on a single bumper jack is a good idea. Kind of selfish and jerky, no?

Holding Out for an Antihero

Before you accuse us of blatant Bueller bashing, know this: we still think Ferris is a hero. More specifically, he's an antihero. Just like Batman, Severus Snape, and Walter White, Ferris breaks the conventions of what it means to be heroic.

Steve Almond writes in VQR that "Ferris is fearless, larger-than-life. He has internalized the unconditional love of his parents and skips through his days in a self-assured reverie. He is what every teenage guy dreams of being: a raging, narcissistic id who gets away with it." So in Ferris's case, he disrupts the hero code by being a self-centered hustler.

He upholds the conventions of heroism, however, through his intentions. For all of Ferris's manipulations and machinations when it comes to his best bud Cameron, Ferris really believes he's doing it all to help him. In fact, he tells Cameron this explicitly in one of their earliest exchanges in the movie. After Cameron asks Ferris to let him rot in peace, Ferris replies, "Cameron, this is my ninth sick day. If I get caught, I don't graduate. I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for you." Aw.

Ferris + Cameron 4eva!

Ferris communicates similar concerns for Cameron all throughout the movie—from his men's room soliloquy at Chez Quis, where he empathizes with Cameron's messed up home life, to his Glencoe Beach soliloquy, where he voices his trepidation about the fact that Cameron's never been in love. Ferris rarely misses a chance to get his monologue on, and many of them are about Cameron.

But wait—we haven't even talked about Ferris's most heroic effort. No, we're not talking about when he dedicates "Danke Schoen" to Cameron, although that's pretty cool, too. We're talking about when Ferris offers to take the heat for the busted Ferrari on the forest floor.

Sure, it would be a far more generous act had Ferris not forced Cameron to take the Ferrari out in the first place, but let's focus on the bigger picture here, Shmooper. When Ferris is willing to absorb Cameron's punishment for killing the car, "he has risen above his happy-go-lucky solipsism—probably for the first time in his life," explains Almond, "and offered to sacrifice himself." Shedding your self-centered ways to throw yourself on your sword for a friend? Sounds pretty heroic to us.

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