revisiting “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

[warning: this review contains spoilers for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, for Fight Club, and for Mulholland Dr.]
Seasoned viewers, try this. Re-watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off through the Fight Club lens* and consider a question: what if Ferris only exists in Cameron’s mind?

Think about it: cheeky, charming, happy-go-lucky Ferris Bueller is a fantastical alter ego for anyone, but an especially apt one for somber, staid Cameron Frye. Cameron is sickly; Ferris only fakes sick so he can have the time of his life. Cameron clams up around the lovely Sloane; Ferris grabs her and kisses her, tickles her silly, makes her laugh and smile and yearn and worry over him. Ferris smashes Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari; Cameron takes the blame for it. In Ferris’ own words, why does he orchestrate this whole adventure and bully Cameron into playing hookie? “If anyone needs a day off, it’s Cameron.”

But the boys share more than the fun and the blame. Early in the film, a crucial scene shows them splitting a persona (Sloan’s dad), with Cameron performing the voice and Ferris appearing as the body. When the droning teacher calls role (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”), he skips straight down the roster to Cameron’s name (“Frye? Frye?”). Why? Because he’s only calling one name, over and over: Cameron’s name is Ferris’ name. Throughout the film, Ferris is identified with a dummy and an audiotape, for goodness sakes! This is slap-in-the-face symbolism worthy of Bergman or Lynch. No hay banda!

So… this thought experiment is a fun way to look at a familiar favorite, and it points out the dichotomous natures of the two characters quite nicely. But does it work as a literal interpretation? Um… no, not really. When it comes right down to it, Ferris is too active to be imaginary, too well-recognized, too plainly real. We see Ferris interact with his family members, we see that Ferris is known to teachers and students and — especially, notoriously — to school administrators, and we see Ferris engaging with strangers all over Chicago, while Cameron hardly seems to be noticed by anyone, even by his reputedly overbearing (but actually totally absent) father.

Hey, hang on — we may have another theory here: Cameron as Ferris’ alter ego, the shrinking cringing core of Ferris’ exuberant outer shell. Oh, yeeeeeeah.

*As a quick Google will show, this Ferris/Fight Club idea is not original to me, though the evidence and examples used here are my own.

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