Saturday, May 2, 2009

Durden...? Durden...?

Let me begin by saying that I do not so much believe what follows as I just enjoy it very much. Oh, and...SPOILER ALERT.

One of my two Sara-friends (not counting this Sara, who is fictional and anyway based on neither) sent me a link to this blog post articulating the theory that Ferris Bueller is Cameron Frye's Tyler Durden. In my opinion, the articulation of the theory is flawed, not quite fitting with either film (Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Fight Club),1 but the theory itself—the basic notion—is quite excellent:

Ferris Bueller does not exist per se—or, rather, Ferris is Cameron and Cameron is Ferris: Ferris is an aspect of Cameron's personality or fantasy life that Cameron psychotically believes to be a separate person. [In a way the biggest obstacle to drawing a Fight–Ferris parallel is that Cameron has a name: part of the genius of Fight Club is that it turns out Ed Norton's character's name is Tyler Durden. So, for ease of discussion, let's just follow the Fight Club lead and assert, for ease of discussion, that "Cameron Frye" is the one that doesn't really exist and that although the whole movie is effectively from the point of view of "Cameron" in this reading of it, the person we know as Cameron is known by everyone else as..."Ferris Bueller."2]

So Cameron's the one who steals his dad's car: all the argument with him trying to get Ferris not to do it is an internal thing, and he can't quite think of himself as being capable of taking the car (i.e., standing up to his dad), so he puts it all on his much braver, more confident alter ego, who of course doesn't give a shit about Cameron's relationship with his dad—something that is terrifying to Cameron but surely also very appealing to him.3 Cameron is the one who calls Rooney and the Chez Quis maitre d', with Ferris urging him on. And—well, I can't decide about this one (haven't actually given any of this that much thought, as much as it may appear otherwise), but either it's Cameron singing on the float or that whole thing is just a fantasy and the only real thing...yeah, this version appeals to me because it feels like this even without this wacky theory: the only real thing going on is the conversation between Cameron and Sloane where they talk about how neither of them knows what to do because neither of them is interested in anything. In a way the biggest appeal of this theory is that it means Cameron's sleeping with Sloane4 (he just doesn't think of himself as doing it, just like the Ed Norton character with Marla Singer in Fight Club).

A couple of things "support" this reading. For one thing, it's a neat (if somewhat slipshod5) solution to an otherwise slightly irritating problem: that the Ben Stein character goes right from "Bueller...? Bueller...?" to "Frye...? Frye...?"—what, there's nobody in the class with a name starting with C, D, or E? That is statistically impossible6—just ask Dr. Math7! No, he goes straight from Bueller to Frye because he's really only saying one name. O.K., that's a bit of a stretch, but it at least sort of addresses an otherwise irritating continuity thing.

Also, look at the surprising similarities between the characters. One's a hypochondriac, the other's a faker, but neither is sick and both are home sick! Both say they're dying, too; again, one's deliberately deceiving people and the other seems to think it's true, but in both cases it's false. Both are masters of disguise, like Odysseus: Ferris and Cameron both do Sloane's dad,8 and they collaborate on the Abe Froman gambit, Ferris being Abe and Cameron being Sgt. Peterson, Chicago Police. Also, neither has a real plan for the day (Ferris cruising through the day carefree, relying on his wits and natural good fortune, Cameron just being drawn along in Ferris's wake) or for the future, and—this is the least intuitive, I think—neither has a good relationship with his family! Obviously Cameron is terrified of his father and his house is like a museum, but even Ferris lives sadly closed off from his family. Yes, they're very affectionate, but the only interaction we see between them is that of the con artist and his mark: he's deceiving them without the slightest compunction, acting throughout, and they're total dupes giving him affection that we mainly laugh at—oblivious all the while to his real life and what he is really like. (Note, too, that we never actually see any member of Cameron's family.)

[Side note: years ago, when teaching Hamlet for the first time, I developed a whole half-joking theory (like this one) about how Ferris is basically Hamlet and vice-versa. I won't go into it except to say that the question I asked about Ferris is the same one some scholars have asked about Hamlet: lovable though he is, and impressive though he is, and as much as he is the obvious hero, would you actually want to be his friend? Both would walk all over you; neither gives a serious shit about anyone, it sometimes seems. (Look at how Ferris treats Cameron! Would you want someone to put lye on your hand? No, I'm getting confused.) Another version of the question is, girls'n'gays, would you want him to be your boyfriend? And if you limit the question to, "Would it be fun to have sex with him," or just "Would he be fun," then probably yes, but would you expect real intimacy? Could you trust him?]

He comes right back to say hello...9

[Another side note...and I'm including a couple of incredibly crappy videos (because apparently you can't upload sound files to Blogger) to illustrate this: I discovered a few years back that any Ferris Bueller line can be said like Woody Allen.

video video

Indeed any line can be said like Woody Allen, just as any song can be sung like Bob Dylan.


Next it's fun to find movies in which there's singing and talking, like Ferris Bueller's Day Off itself...


...and, say, Back to the Future.


1 The big problem, if you're interested, is this claim that Cameron is merely imagining it all and that none of it is happening—neither true to the Fight Club analogy nor particularly compelling.
2 It would actually be simpler and easier to follow, probably, if we went the other direction—Cameron is real, Ferris is made up—but (a) the real answer of course is that they're both real, it's just that they're not two separate people, and (b) I think it's truer to Ferris Bueller's Day Off to have Ferris's name be the "real" one, if only because Ferris is so famous in his community and everyone knows his name, whereas the only time we ever hear anyone talk about Cameron (other than the two other main characters) is...well, we'll get to that.
3 Even if we don't view Ferris as a part of Cameron (they're friends, after all—Cameron loves Ferris even as Ferris arguably mistreats him), but all the more so if we do.
4 In his recent Playboy interview (no, I don't read Playboy, but I did read this—to be discussed, perhaps, later), Seth Rogen made the interesting point that if Ferris Bueller's Day Off were made today, Cameron would be the star.
5 Not the right word, exactly, but I'm in the middle of a small love affair with this word, so I'm going to let it be.
6 Surely false...although mathemagicians do pull out that kind of shit every once in a while, like when they say that one person a thousand years ago is the ancestor of every single living person, or some shit like that. What the fuck, mathemagicians?
7 ...who has been strangely absent from the infernet...perhaps taking a vacation in his Fortress of Solitude?
8 Cameron: "Pardon my French, Rooney, but you're an asshole!" Ferris: "Do you have a kiss for Daddy?"
9 ...hours after saying he wants to marry Sloane.


drmath said...

Who said the names were in alphabetical order?

Also, you simply subdivide each part by its cosine.

Short Round said...


Yes. Alphabetical.

xxrydenislovexx said...

Ok you are my favorite person of the week. I love this theory(although its obviously not retelling fight club since it didnt exist) and also am trying to write my opinions like you did. Hopefully itll be done by the end of the week and if youre interested i can give you the link when im done ^-^ so yeah, just wanted to say good job on this xD

Short Round said...


(True that Fight Club came second, but then I'm never one to rule out time travel.)

Misopogon said...

Bullet Points On Names in Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

* Frye is actually properly placed. He is the 8th name called in a class of about 30 students, and 'Fr' would fall at the end of the 7th letter of the 26-letter alphabet. What is strange is 'Bueller' falling so late.

* People of similar background have historically settled near those similar to themselves, and people of similar cultural background exhibit similar behavior, so finding groupings of last-name-origin in any given class should be expected.

* The weirdest part of the attendance roster is not that Frye comes after Bueller, but that the class would have four patronymic forms of 'Adam'. I submit that the most likely genesis of the long name list was that the script originally began with Adams and moved on to Adler; the sub-forms of 'Adams' all added to lengthen the scene and further demonstrate the tedium of attendance in contrast to the fun that Ferris is having in his room.

* 'Adamley' among these, is not entirely patronymic, as the suffix 'ley' is a place name, so the name means "near Adam." This is Simone, the girl who related the story of Ferris passing out Baskin Robins the previous evening. Adding 's' (English), 'owski' (Polish) or 'son' (English) means "Son of Adam."

* The majority of suburban Chicago white folk are of German descent, and 'Bueller' (meaning "hill man," Eng eq: 'Hiller') is representative of this. Almost every other surname given in the movie is of English origin, including 'Peterson' (son of Peter), 'Anderson' (son of Andrew), 'Rooney' (Anglicization of Gaelic word for "Champion"), 'Sparrow' (what you think it is), 'Frye' (which means "free," i.e. he is not a serf), and 'Froman' (a form of 'Freeman'; see above).

* The only other family name in the movie not of German origin: 'Volbeck,' (by the river, or by the brook) the vildechaya played by Charlie Sheen, who serves as a kind of Dark Ferris.

* This German vs. English relationship is seen most directly in the float scene during the German parade, when Bueller lip-synches to Danke Schoen (means "thank you very much" or literally "thanks pretty"), and then anglo-switches to the Beatles for "Twist and Shout."

Is all of this on purpose? Hughes has mentioned that his study of German in high school was part of the movie (mostly in the use of the song and his choice for the parade). As I mentioned earlier, Chicago has a lot of Germans. Yet Americans of German Descent (our country's largest ethnic group) are also the most assimilated. Giving German names to his two rebels and English names to the rest of the named cast may have been a subconscious reference to old notions of German-American rascalism.

* A more sinister (or perhaps more appropriately "dextral") explanation for the German/English motif of the movie could be the conservative Hughes' pitting the right's vision of British culture as the preferred unifying culture for America over liberal multiculturalism, again exemplified by Bueller "saving" the German-American parade with a city-unifying Beatles song.

Short Round said...

Wait, but you're not really suggesting that all those A names are anything but a funny joke, are you?

Love the "Dark Ferris" idea. I never really thought about the fact that Jeanie winds up with a more bad-ass version of her brother.

Was Hughes conservative?

Misopogon said...

All the 'a' names: I doubt it's an intentional joke. Could you imagine a scriptwriter going "ha ha, I'm gonna have a ton of names that start with 'A' in the class --- whahahaha [knee slap]!"

You guys don't really slap your knees, do ya?

I'm willing to bet it was a "shit -- what do we do?" moment, when the script said "Adams, Adler, Anderson, Bueller?" which sounds tedious enough, but then it's the day of filming, and they've just discovered Ben Stein has literally the most boring voice in the universe, and they want to extend the scene. But then: "FUCK! Our protagonist's name is fucking 'B'!"

So they add Adamly, Adamowski, Adamson. If someone that moment had thought of Allen, Bailey, Baker, Barnes, Bell, Bennett, Brooks, or Brown, I bet they would have added those. Or maybe not -- the cadence works best if Bueller is the first consonant, the one that's different than the others. But I doubt they would have cared. I believe we are witnessing the result of an ad-hoc movie-making moment from filmmakers who never imagined their campy cutting school flick would ever become a cult classic.

I'm not gonna look it up but I'm pretty sure I read that Hughes is a conservative (you know Stein is).

Short Round said...

I definitely think the "A" names are an intentional joke. I bet you're right about the genesis of the joke—they had to set up a pattern before calling Bueller, and Bueller of course is a "B" name, so they wanted to draw it out—but what they wound up with is comical, and that that was accidental is tough to swallow. (I mean, they could have come up with a bunch of non-Adam "A" names if they had wanted to, for instance.)

You're right, though, that the joke was a later development. I'm looking at a draft of the screenplay right now, dated 3/25/85, and the only names that get called before Bueller are Albers and Becker. I wonder if it really was all just to highlight the comedy of Ben Stein's drone. Not at all unlikely...