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A picture is worth a thousand words

I recently revisited the film I consider one of the best depictions of life as a typical high school student in the late 20th century – The Breakfast Club. In this film Richard Vernon gives the students the task of “writing an essay of no less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are.” Throughout the film we slowly learn who these kids are. Within the film John Hughes provided viewers with visual clues as to how these characters saw themselves and who it was they thought the are.

It begins with the assignment. Each student is provided a single piece of paper and a pencil. Depending on each student’s handwriting, one piece of paper is most likely not going to provide enough space for an essay of 1,000 words. But let’s track what happens with that paper. In each case a single image can capture what they would say with their 1,000 words. 

Soon after the incident with the door to the library, the students settle into their seats. John Bender takes his piece of paper, crumples it into a ball, and throws it.


What does John Bender think of himself? Is he throwing his life away? Does he see himself as worthless?

Just prior to their lunch, Hughes provides us with a montage of the students occupying their time. Andrew Clark takes his piece of paper and …


Without sports who would Andrew Clark be? Later he compares himself to a racehorse, and states that he’s not very involved in what is happens to him in his life as an athlete. His father and his coach are making his decisions for him. Like the football he plays a very passive role.

In this same montage we see Allison working with her piece of paper.


 Allison creates situations to gain responses from the others, but provides very little information about herself. When Andrew and Brian are sharing wallets with each other Allison dumps the contents of her purse in an attempt to get the boys to respond to the possibility that she may runaway from home. Later Allison tells a lie to manipulate Claire to tell everyone whether she has ever “done it.” In this landscape drawing Allison is creating, but revealing very little about herself. 

In the closing moments of the film we see Brian proudly composing his essay which also serves as the memorable final lines of the film. 


What about Claire? What does she do with her paper? In the closing moments of the film Claire talks to Brian about writing the essay. Claire doesn’t do anything with her paper. She either can’t decide what to do, or is content to let others define who she is.

There has been much talk about what happens to these characters after the events in the film. What happens the next day? Where are they now?  For those of us that were teenagers in the mid-to-late 80’s I think that we can all agree with one of the most insightful comments in any John Hughes movie about the teens of the 80’s and growing up in the wake of the Baby Boomers. It occurs in the basement as Carl the custodian and Richard Vernon discuss the kids.

Richard Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me. 

Carl: I wouldn’t count on it.