Don't You Forget About Me: 'Breakfast Club' at 30

John Green, Diablo Cody, the creators of 'Gossip Girl' and more weigh in on a teen-movie classic

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John Green, Author ('The Fault in Our Stars')
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John Green, Author ('The Fault in Our Stars')

I first saw The Breakfast Club when I was 10 or 11 years old. And it's a funny thing: I think to teenagers of that era it was probably giving form and expression to something they knew but didn't necessarily have the vocabulary for. But to me — a kid who wasn't a teenager yet — it gave me a set of expectations.

[I connected] to Brian Johnson, the nerd finally being accepted and understood, but also to Allison Reynolds. I had a lot of anxiety around my physical appearance, and seeing her shake her dandruff out was incredibly empowering to me. But one of the problems [in] watching it when you're 10 years old is that you don't necessarily come away with the lesson that stereotypes are over-simplifications or that all human beings contain a multitude of complexities. Instead, it's: "Oh, there are five types of teenagers. I am on path to become one of them, but I should aspire to be the one who gets Molly Ringwald." By the time I saw the movie again in high school, I remember understanding the idea that people will surprise you when you take the time to listen to them.

I love work that takes teenagers seriously and acknowledges their intelligence and interest in the big questions. Here's a movie about a group of kids sitting in a circle talking about the meaning of life and our responsibilities to each other and ourselves. Imagine being in a Hollywood pitch meeting and saying: "I want to make a movie where five kids sit in a circle and talk about what is really important." It's unimaginable! Part of the success of the movie is that it was totally unafraid to do that.

I try to be cautious not to assign too much power or influence to any one particular work of art because I think individuals are usually reflective of larger movements. But I think John Hughes was tremendously important in helping all of us to understand that teenagers were not big children and that adolescence is separate from childhood. I am sure he saw what he was doing partly as holding a mirror up to adolescent reality as he saw it, but along the way he defined it as well. To be a teenager is to be in this world between innocence and experience. When you're a kid, you have the protection — it come from your parents, as well as your imagination. And then as an adult, you have the protections of the entire social order being oriented around you and you have more experience with which to deal with problems. But the crazy thing about being a teenager is that you have neither of those protections: You are raw and exposed in wonderful and terrifying ways, and The Breakfast Club reflects that beautifully.