Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts’ articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on a classic movie character; Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Table of Contents
What is an Original Character?
It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation. Or it’s a character that sums up a behavior or generation.
“Not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting.”– from The Cambridge English Dictionary
Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay.
For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive, an original character is an element of the script that stands out. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of a script need, the original characters steal the show.
Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help to elevate great to superlative.
They may be plucked from real life or an amalgamation of real people. Or they might just simply be a genius stroke of creativity. Either way, these are original characters…
The eighteenth of our original characters series will look at Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
*The following article contains spoilers for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off*
Who is Ferris Bueller?
Ferris Bueller is a senior in high school. But he believes school to be a waste of time. So he often tricks his parents and teachers into letting him skip school.
The innocent act he puts up for his parents contrasts with his mischievous and often reckless personality. But it is his charm and self-confidence that makes him a charismatic and engaging character despite his errant behavior.
- When the film begins, Ferris has been absent from school nine times in one semester. This means he only has one more day to skip school before his parents and his teachers notice.
- So, aided by his best friend, Cameron, and girlfriend, Sloane, he decides to make his last the best one yet.
Ferris manifests a steak many wish they could in high school. He’s popular, confident, and with the brains and bravery to pull off his outrageous stunts. He does, however, remain relatable.
- He is a senior struggling to figure out where his life is going after high school. This is a relatable experience for many, if not most, audiences.
- All Ferris wants is the freedom to enjoy life. So audiences can relate to him and at the same time wish they could have the same carefree attitude he presents.
Ferris is somewhat of a guru in this regard. Life is far too short to spend, particularly as a young person, being overwhelmed by worry. He shows us this. And this zen-like attitude to everyday life is arguably why, even many years later, Ferris still resonates with audiences.
What Makes Ferris an Original Character?
Throughout the movie, Ferris acts as a sort of older brother to the audience. We look to him for guidance in this way. However, he also pushes the audience (and the characters) outside of their comfort zones.
He’s not always an easy character to like. He seems to rarely care about the consequences of his actions, for example. But it’s the way his attitude ultimately affects those around him that reflects his unique ability to push people outside of their everyday hang-ups.
- Cameron, his neurotic best friend, for example, spends the majority of the film panicking about the various situations Ferris gets them into.
- However, by the end of the day, he has learned to take life and himself far less seriously.
- Ferris breaks through the fourth wall (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and tells the audience to take things less seriously, just like he does with Cameron.
His self-confidence also feels unique. Ferris never doubts himself and encourages others to do the same. He spends the film only just escaping being caught by the skin of his teeth.
- This type of courage seems rare on-screen. He is uncompromisingly being himself.
- Because of this Ferris is the type of character that teens, in particular, find alluring. He manages to reassure people that life is not meant to be hidden away from, all whilst remaining true to himself.
- Whilst he is a teen character within a teen drama, this self-belief makes him resonate with audiences across generations.
And this type of longevity and applicability is what makes his character original. For all the antics he gets up to, it’s his surprisingly worldly attitude that shines through. Ferris’ ultimate lesson is to enjoy life, something his most famous quote highlights perfectly.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
One aspect that makes Ferris Bueller unique is that he consistently breaks the fourth wall by talking to the audience.
- And this intrinsically makes you feel as though you are part of Ferris’ story. This is especially the case when he reveals his intimate thoughts and feelings.
- For example, the fourth wall break humanizes him when he describes his worries about being separated from Cameron and Sloane after graduation.
- Ferris embodies both the fears and desires many have at his age. And he is an original character because while he seems too slick to be true, he is speaking to us personally. This, in turn, makes him seem more real.
By speaking to us directly, he is giving us permission to “blow off steam” along with him. Moreover, he shows us how to do this. For example, in the opening monologue, he gives instructions on how to fake an illness to your parents. This is something every kid has probably tried at one point or another. So Ferris acts as a kind of guide to errant behavior, again echoing the feel of being a cool older brother type.
Ferris also has so many different personas. He’s the innocent well-behaved son, the annoying younger brother, and the cool high school senior. However, he gives off the impression that the only people he is truly honest with are his friends and the audience.
It’s the fourth wall breaks that help achieve this authenticity. The device often appears in films or TV without much purpose other than to give the story a stylistic flourish. However, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off illustrates how to use the technique to create intimacy with the protagonist. This ultimately makes them feel like a close friend and not just a convenient narrator.
Cameron is Ferris’ neurotic best friend, who contrasts his own free-spirited, mischief-making personality.
- Ferris spends the day trying to prove to Cameron that it is okay to have fun.
- In the end, this drives Cameron to finally stand up to his strict and overbearing father.
- So, while for the majority of the film, Ferris seems to have purely selfish motivations, by the end it becomes clear that his day off was just as much for Cameron as it was for himself.
When Cameron has a breakdown and pretends to drown, Ferris is genuinely worried about him. Despite his reckless behaviour, he cares for and only wants the best for Cameron.
Furthermore, Cameron also forces Ferris to see his own flaws. Ferris can often be cocky and overly confident. However, with Cameron, he tends to admit when he is wrong. For instance, when they realise the car’s mileage isn’t going down in reverse, Ferris offers to take the blame. He even acknowledges that he made them take it out in the first place.
So, despite being unapologetic throughout most of the film, he acts differently with Cameron. He tries to be a good friend. And by the end, Cameron doesn’t have to rely on his best friend to feel good about himself. This growth wouldn’t have happened without Ferris’ help.
Ferris’ relationship with his sister, Jeanie, is hugely significant in the film. From the beginning, the sibling rivalry is clear.
Jeanie is the only character who can apparently see through Ferris’ innocent act. This makes her incredibly frustrated throughout the film. He is likeable and charming, and, therefore, popular despite breaking the rules. She, on the other hand, follows the rules and gets nothing for her efforts.
“If I was bleeding out my eyes, you guys would make me go to school. This is so unfair.”– Jeanie Bueller
Jeanie spends the day trying to get Ferris caught, but fails at every turn. However, just like with Cameron, Ferris is the catalyst for her character development. While coming up with elaborate schemes to get Ferris caught, Jeanie ends up learning to let go.
Jeanie is arrested and shares a moment with a juvenile delinquent. Their exchange ultimately makes her realise she might be better off focusing on herself rather than her brother.
Consequently, she learns to take on some of her brother’s carefree attitude and helps him to get away with skipping school. She also gets her revenge on Mr Rooney, who breaks into their home.
- Their relationship is another string to the bow in terms of Ferris’ originality.
- Ferris effortlessly impacts the characters’ lives without intentionally causing conflict, and this is very rare for film characters.
Often characters make conscious decisions that either positively or negatively affect their friends and family. Ferris’ actions, however, are mostly spontaneous. By him just being himself he manages to influence everyone else in the film, even and especially his stubborn sister.
Sloane is Ferris’ girlfriend. She is a year younger than Ferris and is a cheerleader.
- However, despite her age, Sloane is often more mature than Ferris. She watches his stunts with a mixture of amusement and admiration.
- And she holds the same lighthearted attitude. So rather than causing conflict, her maturity compliments his boyish charm.
Ferris’ devotion to her is obvious, but it is also clear that they are free to be individuals. This is relatively original ground for teenage relationships on screen. Teen romances can often, after all, be overly melodramatic.
- Even when Ferris asks her to marry him, he understands how ridiculous it is.
- Sloane often forces him to think things through. These moments, subsequently, show that he can be aware of the consequences of his actions. Although he might seem to act irrationally, he is more intelligent than it seems.
While his schemes convey Ferris’ intellect in one way, his relationship with Sloane reveals more of his emotional intelligence. When Sloane realises he really does want to marry her, we see that his love for her is sincere. This again humanizes him.
This is another rare occurrence in teen movies. Ferris’ originality is shown in the way he treats Sloane with understanding and respect. She’s not just a high school girlfriend accessory but someone who helps him be a more rounded person than his cocky demeanour may initially present him as.
Ed Rooney is the Dean of Students, who becomes tired of being made a fool of by Ferris. So, he decides to hunt him down to prove he is lying. The mission leads to a series of unfortunate events for Rooney. He is attacked by a dog, assaulted by Jeanie, and forced to take the school bus.
Rooney proves Ferris as the hero of the narrative; acting as the villain even when Ferris is unaware of this.
- The plot is simple but, because Ferris is relatable and the Dean is unlikeable, the stakes seem higher.
- Rooney’s unlikeable character amplifies Ferris’ better personality traits, making him even more of a hero in the audience’s eyes.
If Rooney was a more decently behaved man, we might feel sympathy for him constantly duped by a mischievous high school senior. However, because his personality is the opposite of Ferris; short-tempered and cruel, the audience has little empathy for him. His actions might come from an identifiable place, but he hardly conducts himself with decorum.
Rooney is somewhat sympathetic in that really he’s just trying to do his job. However, the film undoubtedly pitches Ferris as the hero of this story. So Rooney has to be the stickler antagonist.
The Buellers are a typical middle-class family. Kate and Tom Bueller both seem fairly successful in their careers. Moreover, they seem to be genuinely good parents, despite them being very gullible in the face of Ferris’ tricks.
We see that Ferris’ rebellious attitude isn’t necessarily a direct rebellion against his parents. In many teen movies, this is often the case. This is perhaps why there is both an innocence and wider applicability to Ferris’ rule-breaking.
He is not skipping school to spite his parents. Although he takes advantage of them, he seems to have a good relationship with them. Instead, he is skipping school simply because he doesn’t see the point in it.
Ferris’ rejection of school, therefore, seems to be a wider rejection of the system and structure of it, rather than purely personal motivation. Again, this helps Ferris’ resonance as an original character. He’s a cipher for the audience’s feelings about a structure like school instead of a standout wild card case study.
Confidence Versus Arrogance
Ferris Bueller has an unrivalled self-confidence. His confidence makes him brave, and this bravery is what often leads to his plans working out.
We see this, for example, when he, Sloane and Cameron attempt to eat at a fancy restaurant.
- When they are denied, Ferris doesn’t just walk away. Instead, he manages to convince the maître d‘ that he is the ‘Sausage King of Chicago’.
- The maître d‘ buys into Ferris’ self-confidence and believes the story.
This is another way in which Ferris and Cameron contrast. Cameron’s anxiety amplifies Ferris’ composed persona. Cameron does have fun on his day off, but he spends the whole time worrying about getting caught. Ferris, on the other hand, enjoys his day, not worrying about the consequences.
It is important to note, however, that Ferris is confident; not arrogant. His self-assuredness does tangibly benefit others.
This is another way that his character is original; he manages to be confident without being solely self-absorbed. And it’s the cast of characters around him that allow him to be this way. Ferris’ attitude ultimately changes those around him.
Ferris’ energy is infectious and expansive, rather than overbearing and limiting. Ultimately, this is a key distinction between him coming across as confident rather than arrogant.
It’s a fine line and Ferris might not convince all audiences that he isn’t just a self-absorbed, reckless teenager. However, by showing how those around Ferris change throughout the story, the film demonstrates that often the way we feel about someone is truly just a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.
“A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.”– Ferris Bueller
Having a Day Off
Ferris’ character is a lesson to the audience to slow down and appreciate life but also to look at things a little differently.
- He encourages the audience to enjoy the titular day out as an escape and a shift in perspective.
- You go to school (or you can apply the same message to work) every day.
- But by taking a day off and doing things you wouldn’t usually do you gain a different perspective.
For those who grew up in the 1980s, it is characters like this that encapsulated a generation. Yet he can still connect with teens from younger generations who are going through the same growing pains.
John Hughes often criticises societal norms, particularly within a high school setting. And Ferris Bueller is the perfect character to do this through. He comments on the oppressive and limiting school system by breaking free from it.
The school environment can ultimately not be the best place for teaching young people about real life. It didn’t take Cameron a day in school to realise his self-worth, for example. But by embracing change Ferris allows the characters around him (and the audience) to learn and embrace the same thing he has:
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.Ferris Bueller
Overall, Ferris is a great original character. He personifies what many of us aspire (or aspired) to be as teenagers. However, his attitudes have a resonance with adulthood too. He validates our desire for freedom and our fears when moving on to the next chapter of our lives.
Ferris is both popular and a misfit. He’s confident but not completely arrogant, unattainable but able to resonate with people from across cliques and generations.
In addition, with a technique such as breaking the fourth wall, Ferris seems more connected to us. He is more than just a cocky character on screen but a distinctive character who feels like an intimate friend.
Ferris ultimately has the appearance of a familiar cocky teenager. But his wisdom betrays his years. And his originality ultimately stems from his ability to fundamentally influence those around him – the characters and perhaps, most of all, the audience.
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This article was written by Lauren Dunlop and edited by IS staff.
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