Personalities in the Breakfast Club

Oh, what can one learn from a Saturday detention? In the iconic 1985 American film, The Breakfast Club, starring Emilio Esteves, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy as random high school students with a variety of behavioral disorders and difficulty conforming to society’s fixed guidelines, this question is answered.

The Jock, the Princess, the Brain, the Basket Case, and the Criminal must set aside their differences to endure their brutal eight-hour detention with their irrational assistant principal, Mr. Vernon. Each teen is in detention for a different reason, but all of them are expected to write about “who they think they are” in a one-thousand-word essay, by the time the clock strikes three. Throughout the day, their actions reveal their innermost struggles involving their home lives and cliques. As the movie progresses, we come to find out the reason each teen is in detention, which culminates with the teens having a break-through discussion about who they really are. Ironically answering the essay none of them had any intention of writing. Conclusively, Brian, “The Brain” is manipulated into writing a group essay for everyone in which he gives each person their title. While each student represents a different stereotype, together they form “The Breakfast Club.”

Bender, played by Judd Nelson is seen as a low-life sleaze, with a nonexistent future. His father, principal, and peers have been telling him this for years. He lashes out, has aggressive behavior, and feels attacked by the judgement of others. However, he upholds his rebel persona and his indifference to the social norms of high school as if he is untouchable. The underlying reason for Bender’s harsh behavior is due to his horrific home life. He is physically and verbally abused by his parents who show no sense of sympathy or understanding towards their son.

This leads to his hardened shell and forces him to fend for himself, taking on a loner persona. Since Bender is accustomed to being independent, he demonstrates authority and confidence and uses it to manipulate others “below” him. A psychological study that resembles Bender’s character is “The Bobo Doll Experiment” performed by Albert Bandura. This experiment demonstrated children’s behavior in hostile and non-hostile environments and how their aggression was portrayed. Bender was raised in a verbally and physically abusive environment which led him to become hostile towards the other teens in the movie, as well as the rest of his peers.

Allison, played by Ally Sheedy, embodies the “outcast” stereotype especially with her unusual taste in sandwiches. More than the other characters in the movie, she is the most enigmatic of the five. Allison’s prime reason for attending detention on a Saturday morning is actually no reason at all. She is there because she had nothing better to do. Allison is neglected by her parents and is considered an outsider at school. In Maslow’s hierarchy, physiological needs comes first, followed by safety needs, and then needs of belonging and love . Allison has filled the needs of the first and second step, but the crucial third step of Maslow’s hierarchy is missing. This explains why she is socially inept and is serving a detention she was not required to. Allison admits to seeing a shrink because she is a compulsive liar. During her sessions, the shrink used a Sigmund Freud strategy called Psychoanalysis, which encourages a person to talk about anything that pops into their mind while they remain comfortable and relaxed.

Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall, is considered the lowest on the social totem pole. His given self-identity is “the brain” meaning that his intelligence defines who he is. Brain acknowledges that he is in a lower social caste than the others in detention, yet he is constantly seeking out their attention. He is desperately trying to fit in and become an insider. However, his longing to be accepted does not stop at school. Brian’s family values his intelligence more than him as a person. His parents exhibit a level of conditional positive regard and only accept Brian when his performance is high at school. This results in Brian becoming overly anxious and stressed after he received a failing grade on an assignment. He felt as though he was a failure and could not continue living life that way, so he gathered the necessary materials to end his life. Brian’s parents put an extensive strain on him, which results in a very fragile ego, leading him to be susceptible to peer pressure. This is shown when Bender convinces the group to smoke marijuana and Brian conforms to this social norm. Humans have a natural instinct to belong and it seems that Brian’s feelings are amplified to a massive extent.

Claire, played by Molly Ringwald is seen as superior to the rest of the group because of her high social status. She sees herself as on top of the social hierarchy because she is more “popular” and comes from a wealthy lifestyle. However, since her parent’s divorce, she has been used as a weapon by them to get back at each other. This results in Claire seeking approval for others and questioning her own self-worth. She wears a mask that hides her inner insecure personality and shows the rest of the world her snobby outer personality.

Andrew, played by Emilio Esteves, on the surface is a one-dimensional and belligerent athlete that is seen in every high school movie. However, as Andrew discloses to the group the insensitivity of his parents, his reflectiveness and empathy reveal that he is a deeper character than people may think. Andrew’s father sees him as an object to obtain athletic achievements and to live vicariously through. This adds stress and pressure to Andrew’s shoulders, which pushes him to act as a “big, dumb jock” and uses this as motivation to please his father and excel at athletics.

This movie highlights the concepts of social identity and how they contribute to human behavior. Young adults tend to be overly obsessed with the idea of fitting in and this is shown in the film. The human need to belong occurs in everyday life, but in this movie, we see social groups from different ends of the spectrum come together to break social norms. Furthermore, we see the pressure of outside forces such as family life, influence, actions and behaviors on a person. This film shows a different aspect of the social side of psychology which was not deeply covered in class. However, I felt as though I was able to make connections to previously covered material. This film also shows the distance people are willing to go in order to conform to what they believe is societally correct and what pressures influence them to do so.

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