The Breakfast Club Defined by Their Lunches
by Christian Villacres
The Breakfast Club (1985) relays the story of five high school students from vastly different social groups who spend an entire Saturday together in detention. At the beginning of the film, they are all tasked with writing a reflective essay on who they think they are. Based on every impression made by the students, it would seem as if they all fit perfectly into their respective archetypes. These assumed stereotypes are precisely what Mr. Vernon, the teacher watching over them, expects to find in their written responses, however as the film progresses it become more evident that they are all far more than their conventional image would suggest. The students consider these cliché representations of themselves as their true identities for the majority of the film, and it takes until the conclusion of the film for them to realize their true essence. John Hughes, the director of the film, excellently executes the inexplicit assignment of each student to their respective stereotype through each student’s subtle (and not so subtle) behaviors. While it may not seem exceedingly significant in the larger scope of the film, the lunch scene perfectly exemplifies this inexplicit assignment of archetypes to each character. The kinds of foods we choose to eat speak volumes about our character, and in the case of this film, each student’s meal places a spotlight on the character traits Hughes wishes to emphasize.
As aforementioned, the meal each student packs for lunch draws attention to the deep-seated image assigned to them by society. For example, Andrew, the established ‘jock’ of the group, packs a copious amount of nutritious food, which is befitting of an elite athlete. This grand feast, which consists of several sandwiches, multiple pieces of fruit, and an entire family-size bag of chips, suggests that Andrew’s father places great importance on his nutrition. Claire, the ‘princess’, packs sushi, an exotic food that the other students do not seem to even recognize, accompanied by an intricate, wooden serving plate. This meal choice would suggest that Claire’s family is very financially comfortable and that she is well provided for. Brian, the ‘brains’, brings a lunch obviously prepared by his mother and one that even he describes as being “completely standard”. The nature of his packed lunch would suggest that he comes from a household where he is constantly being loved and supported. Allison, the ‘basket-case’, packs a strange lunch that she obviously prepared herself. The meal consists of a sandwich made of sugar, white bread, and cereal. This poor excuse for a meal would suggest that Allison was probably never taught how to eat well and is likely ignored at home. Finally, and possibly most poignant of all, would be the meal Bender, the ‘criminal’, packs, which is actually nothing at all. This lack of food goes hand in hand with the stories of abuse he recounts to the other students and the lack of care he receives from his parents. This scene is short, but meaningful, and is made more intense by the hectic filming style employed by the cinematographer.
The Breakfast Club makes great use of its cinematography to highlight the gradual establishment of power the students build over their own identities. The camera angles used during several scenes are definitely intentional and stress the relationship between the characters within each shot. For instance, during the library scene, when the students are being assigned their essays, the camera is filming at a downward angle from the perspective of Mr. Vernon. This camera angle stresses the superiority of Mr. Vernon as their disciplinarian. Later in the film when the five students are seated on the floor conversing, as seen in the still shot placed above, the camera angle is more or less at the same level as all of the children. This eye-level camera angle underlines the students’ realization that regardless of their differing social standings, they are all essentially equal. The final scene of the movie sees Bender pump his fist triumphantly with the camera angle looking up at him. This choice in camera angle signifies the students’ triumph over their stereotypes.
In addition to the cinematography of the film, non-diegetic sound in the form of music also accentuates the thematic content intended by Hughes. The prominently featured song by Simple Minds, “Don’t You Forget About Me”, alludes to a conversation between the students on school life outside of detention. The question is first posed by Brian, who wonders whether or not the friendships formed that day would persist outside of detention. The other students initially respond that they could not possibly remain friends because of the outside pressure from their established social groups. This concern is cast aside by the conclusion of the film, however, as it is clear that the students have all successfully broken free from their labels.
First exhibited by their choice in packed lunches, the five students all seem so different that they may as well be from different planets. These superficial differences quickly melt away, however, as their labels are cast aside and their true personalities are revealed. Over the course of the film, the students collectively discover that they all go through similar problems as adolescents. This group mentality is aptly summarized by the following David Bowie quote featured before the commencement of the film: “…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”.
Tanen, N., & Hughes, J. (Producers), & Hughes, J. (Director). (1985). The Breakfast Club [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studio