The Breakfast Club

In 1985, The Breakfast Club was released. In the almost thirty years since its release, it's become one of the classics of the teen genre and is considered to be one of John Hughes' best movies.

On the surface, The Breakfast Club is quite a simple movie about five teenagers doing a Saturday detention. Chances are, this is all the movie was ever supposed to be--a simple brat pack movie meant to entertain some teenagers for ninety minutes on a slow weekend. However, it can be argued that the movie is more than just a simple teen comedy.

The premise of this theory is that the five kids and Carl the janitor are all figments of Vernon's imagination. This stems from the fact that at various points in the movie, Vernon demonstrates that he shares at least some passing similarities to the stereotypes that each of the five kids possess, plus some of the stuff that Carl and Vernon say to each other.

During the scene where Vernon and Bender are in the closet, Vernon bloats that he's a cool guy, and that it wouldn't matter too much if he hit Bender right there and then. If anyone found out, the authorities would most likely take Vernon's side anyway, seeing Bender as little more than a troublemaking thug, and seeing Vernon as a pillar of responsibility.

This is reflective of a certain competetive streak in Vernon. This scene is where it's at its most obvious, but it typifies the pair's entire relationship. They compete with each other, and a lot of the time it's Vernon who escalates the conflict. It was Vernon who seriously challenged Bender to hit him, not the other way round.

Richard Vernon: That's the last time, Bender. That the last time you ever make me look bad in front of those kids, you hear me? I make $31,000 a year and I have a home and I'm not about to throw it all away on some punk like you. But someday when you're outta here and you've forgotten all about this place and they've forgotten all about you, and you're wrapped up in your own pathetic life, I'm gonna be there. That's right. And I'm gonna kick the living shit out of you. I'm gonna knock your dick in the dirt.

Bender: You threatening me?

Richard Vernon: What are you gonna do about it? You think anyone's gonna believe you? You think anyone is gonna take your word over mine? I'm a man of respect around here. They love me around here. I'm a swell guy. You're a lying sack of shit and everybody knows it. Oh, you're a tough guy. Hey c'mon. Get on your feet pal. Let's find out how tough you are. I wanna know right now how tough you are.

[offers Bender his chin]

Richard Vernon: Just take the first shot. I'm begging you, take a shot. Just one hit. Come on, that's all I need, just one swing...

[Bender pauses, staring]

Richard Vernon: That's what I thought. You're a gutless turd.

This competetiveness is something you would probably most likely associate with Andrew, the school athlete. After all, Andrew is the one who has been driven to compete by most of the adult influences in his life. So, Vernon has an element of the athlete in him.

The closet scene also demonstrates a certain amount of vanity on Vernon's part. Vernon's a vain man, much like Claire is a vain teenage girl. If Vernon weren't vain, he wouldn't have felt it necessary to note that he's considered a "swell guy", nor note that he was making $31,000 annually. If Vernon were a little less vain, it's also doubtful that he would have brought Bender to such a constricted space to have this discussion--it would have been more likely to have happened in his office, or in some room away from the other kids.

But Vernon also has a certain element of the criminal stereotype that Bender plays to as well. In a way, his threat to Bender during the closet scene is reflective of this, but there's another scene where this comes to the forefront.

When Vernon's looking through the school records, this would constitute a breach of confidentiality. This might not be technically illegal because he's the vice principal of the school and thus would legitimately have access to the files should he need them, it's certainly a borderline case. Generally speaking, people who have access to this kind of file are told to only access them if they have a genuine need to see them.

In the context of what Vernon was doing, there probably wasn't any genuine need. If there were, he wouldn't have felt the need to hide what he was doing from Carl when he walked in. Sure, it probably wasn't technically an illegal act, but it sure did go against the spirit of the law. This is the kind of rebelliousness that you would, in fact, associate with one John Bender if he were presented with the same kind of situation.

This scene also demonstrates a certain element of the basket case as well. Vernon wasn't doing it just to play the rebel like Bender would have; he was also doing it out of genuine curiousity like Allison would have. Maybe he also would have used some of the information to manipulate the people he was reading up on as well, which wouldn't have been out of character for Allison.

Vernon knew that looking through the files was a weird thing to be doing. This is, of course, part of the reason why he was embarassed when Carl walked in. Bender's criminal element came back to the surface when he offered to do something for Carl so he wouldn't mention what he'd just witnessed.

CARL: Confidential files...hmmm?
VERNON: Look Carl...this is a highly sensitive area and I, I tell you something...certain people would be very, very embarrassed. I would really appreciate it if if if if if if this would be something that, that you and I could keep between us...
CARL: What're you gonna do for me, man?
VERNON: Well, what would you like?
CARL: Got fifty bucks?
VERNON: Fifty bucks...

So, this article has so far covered Andrew the athlete, Claire the princess, Bender the criminal and Allison the basket case. This leaves only Brian, the brain. And, of course, Carl the janitor. But Brian will be dealt with first, because Brian is the last of the kids.

Vernon probably would have been a fairly studious person when he was still in high school, or at least he would have been to some degree. This is a man who managed to get into college, and even for a bachelor's degree in education, you still need to have made some kind of academic achievement in high school.

There's also a certain reflectiveness to Vernon which mirrors that of Brian's. Consider the following exchange between Vernon and Carl, from when they were down in the school's basement:

VERNON: Don't be a goof, Carl. I'm trying to make a serious point here. I've been teaching for twenty-two years, and every year these kids get more and more arrogant.
CARL: Aw, bullshit man. Come on Vern, the kids haven't changed, you have! You took a teaching position 'cause you thought it'd be fun, right? Thought you could have summer vacations off, and then you found out it was actually work, and that really bummed you out.
VERNON: These kids turned on me. They think I'm a big fuckin' joke.
CARL: Come on, listen Vern, what would you think of you if you were sixteen, huh?
VERNON: You think I give a rat's ass what these kids think of me?
CARL: Yes I do.

This is possibly one of the most cynical moments of the film, in which a lot of Vernon's fears about the kids going through the school are put out in the open.

This is the same kind of reflectiveness you see from Brian when he starts talking about taking shop to keep his grade point average up. While not quite as cynical as Vernon, there still is a cynicism to what he was doing--if he didn't pass shop, then he was better off dying.

BRIAN: When I step outside of myself, and when I look in at myself, you know, and I...and I see me. I don't like what I see.

This quote incidentally describes what this theory holds Carl to be. Carl is Vernon's way of looking in on himself, and Vernon might even agree with this assessment of himself--when he looks in at himself, he might not like what he sees either.

Now, the question is, why would Vernon have six figments of his imagination running around the school? Why was he even there on a Saturday? These are questions which can only really be answered through complete conjecture.

Assuming that the theory is correct, then it probably wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume that Vernon had been fired for reasons unknown. Maybe he'd actually gone and hit the student a little too hard, or he got caught up in a sex scandle, or maybe he'd even damaged school property as a joke.

Either way, he'd effectively been asked to resign, which is also the reason why he was there that Saturday. He was cleaning out his desk over the weekend, and he wanted to have one last hoorah at the school before he inevitably left--dig up some old dirt on his coworkers and on the students; something that he could use in a trial or simply for his own social benefit.

Or maybe it was something less sinister. Maybe he did have legitimate administrative work to catch up on, so he went to the school that day and decided to get through the mountain of paper work he had to get through. This would be a better explanation for the various papers we see on his desk when it comes time for him to eat his lunch.

So the hallucinatory characters that were at the school that day existed mainly to keep him company over the long haul. He probably had some understanding that they were imaginary, however he also understood that nobody would even have to know that he spent an inordinate amount of time talking to himself when he was meant to be doing administrative work.

This particular interpretation of The Breakfast Club would be backed up by something that's said during the kids' essay: "You see us only as you want to see us." This would suggest that he knew that these people were imaginary. Maybe they were even based on some of the kids at the school that he was somewhat familiar with--familiar enough to introduce some charactures of them as he walked around the school, but not so familiar that it became uncomfortable for him to do so.

Of course, this probably wasn't what John Hughes intended for people to see when he directed The Breakfast Club. However, it does make for some interesting thoughts.

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