Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the quintessential 80’s coming of age films. John Hughes’ lovable hooligan and titular character, Ferris Bueller, is a fun-loving young buck who skips school one day with his best friend and his girlfriend to have a Chi-town adventure, and make memories that will last a lifetime. By all accounts, Ferris seems like he would be the main character of this movie. I mean, by golly, the movie shares his gosh darn name! Ferris is adventurous, he is sarcastic, and quick with a joke. He is the life of the party, and is beloved by the entirety of the Windy City. He is the epitome of a main character. However, someone outshines dear Ferris in his own movie, a character initially introduced as a dull, downtrodden individual, who was so melancholy that he couldn’t be helped. This character, of course, being the miserable goof (and best friend to Ferris), Cameron Frye. He is the real main character of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
You’re probably thinking, “But wait… Cameron is your average sad sack of potatoes, a boring Betty!” And to that I say; think again. Sure, Cameron may start out as a lump of a man, but by the end of the 90 minutes, he transforms. Through the literary concept of the Hero’s Journey, one that perfectly applies to Cameron, he emerges as the true hero of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Let’s start with the introductory step in the Hero’s Journey: A Call to Action. At the beginning of the movie, Cameron is laying in his bed, immobilized by an ailment of his imagination. It is at this point that he receives a call from Ferris, demanding that he gets out of bed to go on an adventure with him. A literal call to action, if you will. Following the next step of the Hero’s Journey (Refusal of the Call), Cameron initially denies this invitation to get out of his comfort zone, but eventually decides to accept the call and begin his escapades with Ferris.
Every good Hero’s Journey has a magical guide, this being someone who helps the hero in his trials. Some examples of this in popular media would be Morpheus from The Matrix, Yoda or Obiwan Kenobi from Star Wars, and Haku from Spirited Away, just to name a few. Our tale is no different, with the lovable scamp, Ferris, being our magical guide. He fits this archetype perfectly; he shows our hero new ways of life, pushes him when he is uncertain, and leads the way through an unfamiliar world. If Cameron is Bilbo Baggins, Ferris is Gandalf.
While on his quest, Cameron opens himself up to many new experiences. He lets go of all his cares and allows himself to be free for the first time in a long while. In between scenes of Cameron and the gang eating at fancy French restaurants, catching stray homers at baseball games, and taking joy rides in his fathers 1961 Ferrari, we get to see a vulnerable side of Cameron. We learn that he has very little sense of self, and the ever looming presence of his cold, controlling father has caused him to feel stuck, small, and lost. He begins his journey with a lot of fear in his life and exists in a constant state of anxiety. His greatest fear is angering his father, and will go to extreme lengths to avoid this.
But through his adventures in Chicago with his two best mates, Cameron learns that his whole life is ahead of him. We get to see a young man who has dreaded waking up everyday, finally look to the future and feel excitement. This is when the biggest test of Cameron’s character growth appears, also known as steps 9 and 10 of the Hero’s Journey (Atonement to the Father and Apotheosis) . He must face his father and, at long last, stand up for himself. As an audience, we get to see Camreron grapple with this decision through many very emotionally charged monologues. Ultimately, he takes what he has learned on his journey, and decides to confront his father and step into his new found love for life. He leaves his old self behind, and becomes a brave, new man.
And with his old self dead, Cameron reaches the final (and aptly named) step of the Hero’s Journey: Freedom to Live.