Adrian Graham

Rushmore vs Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

There’s nothing like ‘sticking it to the system’, but, what if you’re a teenager and the odds of the whole adult world are stacked against you?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Rushmore (1998) both feature young adults who use their ingenuity to beat the system. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the hero, Ferris, decides to pull a sickie and take the day off school to hang out with his girlfriend, and his best friend. His fun day becomes a celebration of his time at school (which will end when he goes to university), and the importance of friendship. Ferris is a cheeky, geeky-but-cool, teenage hero, an alfa male in-the-making. A natural salesman, whatever life throws at him he can talk his way out of it.

Max Fischer in Rushmore is also geeky and intelligent, but less of an alpha male and more of an odd-ball character destined to be a playwright. Both characters are masters of their own worlds – they shape the things that are happening around them. Through their persistence, charisma and conviction they’re able to keep their followers (their band of heroes) energised and motivated, ensuring that these supporters can fill a part in one of his upcoming plays, or provide an expensive sports car for a joyride.

Rushmore is different from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because of Max’s vulnerability. He uses fantasy to escape from the reality of his impoverished working-class background and the death of his mother. There’s a persistent fantasy and reality theme, which is accentuated by Max’s passion for producing and directing extravagant theatrical dramas with adult themes. Max’s comic likability comes from the disconnection between his aggrandised self-perception, and his real place in the world. This is especially true with his crush on the adult teacher Rosemary Cross with whom he doesn’t stand a chance. The outcome of Rushmore sees Max finally accepting reality, and his own limitations. In becoming himself he can see beyond his selfish motives and salvage his friendships. It’s only through this process that earns true friendship and can form a working romantic relationship.

The tension in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes from fear of Ferris being caught out by his parents or Principal Rooney, and less overtly from a concern that while Ferris gets everything his way, his friend Cameron Frye will lose out: not only is Ferris using him, but Cameron will get the blame for destroying his father’s precious sports car. Ferris turns the disaster around by using the moment to convince Cameron to stand up to his dominant father, and in that moment Cameron realises that his depression and inadequacy are derived from his fear of his father – and by standing up for himself he will become a new person. This change of thinking is only possible because Ferris has already saved Cameron from drowning, which cemented the trust between them. Despite Ferris’s self-centredness, he’s still there for his friends.

The Third Man vs The Long Goodbye

Set in an atmospheric, post-World War Two Vienna, the pulp Western writer, Holly Martins, in The Third Man (1949), goes in search of his missing friend. And, private investigator, Philip Marlowe, in The Long Goodbye (1973) searches for a woman’s absent husband, along with his missing friend (not knowing that the two mysteries are connected).

The two stories involve an honest, ‘average guy’, as he attempts to solve a mystery, one which will prove to be a tragedy, with personal implications. Holly Martins, searches for Harry Lime (allegedly run-over by a lorry): and, Philip Marlowe, a Private Investigator, attempts to work out what happened to his friend, Terry Lennox (who apparently took his own life). Both these ‘average guys’ are seeking the truth – and their friend is at the centre of the puzzle.

The writer, Holly Martins (he’s writing a crime novel called, The Third Man) should be more clued up about Harry Lime, and his dubious, criminal activities – but, Lime outsmarts him almost to the very end. Meanwhile, Philip Marlowe lives in his own world, detached from other people, focused on his cat, seemingly unaware of his unsavoury, scheming friend Terry Lennox.

These are stories about friendship, and trust – or the lack of these qualities. The two ‘nice guy’ characters, or ‘saps’, are really playing to the tune of their amoral friends, who view everyone around them as objects for their own advancement.

Films, time and space

Reflecting scientific theories, a number of modernist art movements sprung up in the early 20th Century – Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism – representing a new and exciting vision of the world. The old order had, as they viewed it, been destroyed by ‘The Great War’, and had been replaced by new, often revolutionary, –ism’s. The new world required a new aesthetic. They no longer saw the world from the ‘naturalistic’ perspective of a traditional Renaissance painting, which mimicked a person’s normal vision. Instead, they created an artistic interpretation of reality as seen through a 4th dimensional lens – a place where space and time was one, and the hectic, concurrent buzz of the modern world could be ‘realistically’ depicted; a place where the mishmash of mental experience and sense perceptions included the multifaceted and multidimensional experience of the modern 1930s world.

Blurred photos taken at 1/8th of a second showed that the world was not made up of static moments, but continuous movement, and the human experience of that movement in space and time – the speed of modern transport systems, and the abundance of information being communicated through the mass media. Even in the 1930s there was a perception that there was an overwhelming amount of information, too much to process, and this excess spilled over into collages and mixed media artworks.

In Cubist art the conventional perspective became fragmented into a multiplicity of viewpoints, reflections, impossible perspectives, distortions of space, and time – an amalgamation of interpreted experience. In Futurism that experience was manifested in blur, in Cubism by a geometrically fragmented aesthetic, almost as if light had been separated into mathematics. Space, and the experience of it in time, had never been portrayed like this before. For screenplay writers the big question was not how to represent the 4th dimension as an aesthetic, so much as, what story could they extract from it? Monsters, aliens – intriguing new worlds of storytelling material.

The premise of ‘other worlds’ is reflected in the popular parallel worlds of science fiction. The existence of these worlds, independent of one another, but existing simultaneously, caused a problem: how did people get from this dimension to the next? In The Matrix the divide between the two worlds is the difference between a simulated computer experience of reality, created by machines to enslave humanity, and actual reality. The only giveaway being the occasional errant code. The ‘doorway’ between the worlds is developing a special consciousness, and literally waking up from the simulation. The passage between dimensions (or storytelling worlds) occurs through a portal of some kind: in Interstellar (2014) it’s a tesseract located deep in space; in Poltergeist (1982) an apparently ordinary house harbours creepy paranormal activity, which appears through the walls, and out of the static signal of a television set. These new dimensions offer new worlds of possibility and opportunity, providing storytellers with new contexts, new rules, new environments where danger may lurk, and discoveries made, changing our perception of the current reality.


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