Why "The Breakfast Club" is a Terrible Source of Love Advice

Okay, I have to begin this post with an important note: I fucking love The Breakfast Club. I watched it for the first time when I was in the eighth grade, and nine years later, it's still my favourite movie of all time. There aren't very many people I've liked for nine years, let alone movies.

But holy shit, does this movie ever have a fucked-up view of how love works.

No, I know for a fact that you don't.

The movie tells the story of what happens when five teenagers from five different cartoonishly 80's high school cliques end up trapped in the library together for Saturday detention. The five of them are tasked with writing an essay that explains just who they think they are - an assignment that sounds more like something a street gang would give to initiates than a high school principal would give to five clearly disturbed teenagers - and the kids spend the day doing absolutely everything but writing their essays. Despite the movie's assertions that classifying people by cheap labels is wrong, no one but me and the movie's cast actually remembers the kids' names - they're just called the Princess, the Athlete, the Brain, the Basket Case, and the Criminal, labels that make me resent my own high school for not having more creative social cliques.

I also resent my high school for not allowing us to dance on top of the bookshelves, but that's an issue I'll have to work through on my own.

Most of the movie is a plotless romp through a day of multiple arguments, lunchtime, tormenting the high school principal and a depiction of marijuana that makes me wish my face was pressed into a bong right now, but by the end of the movie, two relationships emerge from the chaos: the Athlete ends up with the Basket Case, and by some miracle, the Criminal ends up with the Princess. In other words, this movie actually had two chances to depict a semi-functional relationship. And instead, it managed to fuck it up both times. Let's take a look, shall we?

I'd like to think John Bender would be thrilled with my scathing analysis.

1. The Basket Case and The Athlete

Let's start with Allison and Andrew, more commonly known as the Basket Case and the Athlete. For starters, I'm not 100% sure what a Basket Case even is. The name suggests that the school actually rounds up the mentally ill students and forces them to be friends with each other, but Allison's clothing and appearance suggest that she's some sort of proto-Goth/Manic Pixie Dreamgirl hybrid. She spends most of the movie screaming, hiding behind her bangs, eating pixie stick sandwiches, stealing things from the others and telling lies. The only reason she's even in detention is because she has nothing better to do on a Saturday, since she apparently goes to the type of school that is perfectly happy to punish well-behaved students for being lonely. Though we're meant to think of her as 'quirky', her over-the-top behaviour makes it pretty clear that she's the Breakfast Club's equivalent of that strange girl who sat behind you in English class sketching pictures of the popular kids' lifeless corpses until she quietly disappeared into a psychiatric ward after graduation. She can barely function socially, let alone get involved in a healthy relationship.

Just ask her.

And then there's Andrew. Unlike Allison, who seems to be a special kind of neglected, Andrew lives under the thumb of his overbearing, 80's jock stereotype of a father. His parents have raised him to not give a shit about grades, mental health or common human decency; so long as he's physically fit enough to beat weaker kids into human marinara sauce, they will continue to acknowledge that he's their son. He's in detention for taping another kid's butt cheeks together so aggressively that he managed to rip out chunks of the kid's skin, and the only thing his father is concerned about is whether or not the detention will make him miss a wrestling match. He has been brought up to ignore, torment and actively torture people like Allison - most of their interactions throughout the movie involve him recoiling in horror at the insane things she says. They have absolutely nothing in common - besides the fact that they are both profoundly unbalanced people - and have no reason to be interested in each other. So what brings them together? One big thing - Allison gets a makeover.

Oh, look, she put on the white doily dress that every 1980's girl apparently kept in her purse at all times.

Again, I have no words for how fucked-up this is. These two people don't know each other. Up until they were forced to spend the day getting baked in the library together, Andrew was part of the group that actively excluded Allison until she went dandruff-art-making crazy. And she hasn't exactly been charming, either - she spent the day telling lies about fucking her married therapist, stealing people's wallets, and making everyone incredibly uncomfortable. And yet, when she wipes off the raccoon makeup and puts on a headband, all of that is completely forgotten. I can't decide which gender is getting a worse message here. Girls learn that the key to landing a man is to erase all traces of their individual identities and focus on being as generic and pretty as possible. Boys learn that it doesn't matter if a girl lies, steals and screams - so long as she's attractive, they should go for her. This relationship has literally no chance of working out well in the long run; as much as we like to pretend that love is a mysterious, unpredictable magic force, it ultimately comes down to similarity. The more things two people have in common - IQ, socio-economic status, level of education, interests, tastes, number of dead hitchhikers hidden in the basement - the better their odds of having a long, happy relationship. Suggesting that two polar opposites can base a relationship on a headband and a frilly dress is nothing short of insane. And speaking of insane, the Athlete and the Basket Case are not the only couple to come out of this movie...

So hot he can start fires with his teeth.

2. The Princess and The Criminal

The most famous couple to come out of The Breakfast Club is the Princess and the Criminal, because again, this is apparently the sort of school where troubled kids are rounded up into groups and assigned pejorative labels. The fact that the Princess (Claire) and the Criminal (John Bender) get together is one of the only things most people even remember about this movie. You could straight-up quote every single one of the Brain's lines and get nothing but blank stares from people, but walk out into a field and raise your fist in the air, and everyone with good taste in movies will instantly recognize that you're referencing The Breakfast Club. It was supposed to be a coming-of-age film, but there are still plenty of people who consider it a love story just for the Claire/John pairing at the end.

You had me at "I want Judd Nelson thrusting".

Let's start with Claire. Despite being arguably the most well-adjusted member of the Breakfast Club, Claire still effectively amounts to a basket of daddy issues wrapped in designer clothes. She's the product of rich, divorced parents who use her to get back at each other - since that exact scenario describes approximately 3/4 of the people I went to high school with, I can say with absolute confidence that there are only two possible outcomes for Claire: she's either going to end up as a gutter tramp with a lopsided "I heart Mom" tattoo, or she's going to let them bully her into a high-powered, high-stress career until she day she snaps and drowns all her children in the bathtub. At just sixteen or seventeen years old, Claire has effectively unlimited money, unlimited freedom, and an extremely limited supply of parental warmth and supervision. She's so sexually repressed that she might as well put on a bonnet and start churning butter, and so incredibly sheltered that she thinks nothing of wearing thousand-dollar diamond earrings to freaking detention. And the most horrifying part is, she's completely self-aware. She knows that she lives in a bubble made out of money and divorce guilt. She knows that the way she treats other students is wrong. But she also knows that she's caught in a tide of social expectations and petty injustices that's so strong, she has no hope of escaping. She's just looking on, powerless, as she hurtles headfirst through a life of bullying and ostracizing peers she has nothing against, on her long, slow journey to turning into her parents.

Yeah, I'd be smoking too.

But Claire's issues pale in comparison to John's. Bender isn't a boy with issues; he's a bundle of issues with a little bit of boy around the edges. Despite looking like he's 25 (because he was played by a 25-year-old Judd Nelson, a fact that makes his onscreen kiss with then-16-year-old Molly Ringwald all the creepier), Bender is a scared and confused little boy at heart. He has no idea how to interact with other human beings, so he resorts to being as scary and off-putting as possible, which is the exact same mentality that drove thirteen-year-old me to dye her hair fire-engine red and apply black eyeliner with her thumbs. No one has any clue how to deal with this kid. His peers have given up on him. The adults in his life - who are arguably his best shot at not growing up to rob the local 7/11 - have resigned him to his fate, and are apparently trying to take as many of their own personal insecurities on him out on him as they can before he ends up in a penitentiary. Remember, Bender is legally and developmentally still a child, and even the freaking principal of his school launches a personal vendetta against him like he's a grown man caught fucking the principal's wife. Worst of all, I can honestly say that I would wholeheartedly date Bender, which is as good as a litmus test for profound psychological problems.

Bender, presenting an itemized list of reasons why dating him is a bad idea.

If the Basket Case/Athlete pairing was an ill-advised mistake, the Criminal/Princess pairing is nothing short of a fucking industrial accident. Claire and John Bender go together like peanut butter and gasoline. Bender spends the entire movie tormenting the shit out of Claire. He loudly speculates on her sexual history. He tries to stick his face in her crotch when he's hiding under her desk. He humiliates her for her lipstick trick. When she finally opens up enough to talk about her problems at home, he angrily berates her for a socio-economic position she didn't choose and screams at her when she starts to cry. Throughout the movie, we learn that Bender regularly gets the shit kicked out of him by his father, and as a result, he has no clue how to interact with other human beings in ways other than mocking or threatening them. He's emotionally damaged to the point that it's amazing he's still in normal high school, and not a maximum-security juvenile detention centre. I think Bender is attractive, but that's only because my taste in men is somewhere between "serial killer" and "hopeless, incompetent manchild". Any normal woman would stay the fuck away. Claire falling for Bender isn't a romantic connection; it's the world's fastest-onset case of Stockholm Syndrome.


Claire and Bender going from "mortal enemies" to "Brat Pack Bonnie and Clyde" happens because of two gestures, both initiated by Claire, and both completely insane. To start, Claire and Bender are just sort of hanging out, being 1980's teenagers, when Claire leans forward and kisses Bender's neck. Fucking what? This is a man who has gone out of his way to harass, belittle and degrade her. If a man runs up to a woman on the street and calls her an unwashed, Godless whore, her first reaction should not be to suck on his neck like a daddy-issues vampire. Bender's reaction, after the initial shock has worn off, is to suggest that dating him would be an excellent way to get back at her parents. Again, what the fuck? Bender spends the whole film complaining - and rightly so - that people treat him as sub-human. At this point in the movie, he has just come out of a terrifying encounter with the corrupt school principal that points out how powerless Bender really is. Bender offering himself up as a pawn is supposed to be another example of what a lovable shithead he is, but it's really just more evidence that this kid's self-esteem is in the toilet from a lifetime of abuse. He doesn't need a girlfriend - he needs years and years of therapy.

Or maybe just a few more hours of air guitar.

The second incident that brings them together takes place in the parking lot, after detention is over. Bender and Claire are nuzzling up to each other like affection-starved raccoons when Claire opens Bender's hand and drops one of her diamond earrings into his palm; the two then share a passionate kiss, in full view of Claire's parents sitting in their car three feet away.

He can't even kiss without holding a fist to someone's throat.

See, giving him the diamond earring is supposed to be symbolic, because earlier in the movie, Bender drives Claire to the brink of tears when he berates her for not having worked to earn the money for the earrings. Those earrings represent Claire's wealth and privilege, and by giving one to Bender, she shows that... uh... money really can buy everything? If poor people are lucky, rich people will give them shiny trinkets? Who fucking knows? There are only really two possible interpretations of this scene, and one is as fucked-up as the other:

1. Claire is so desperate to get back at her upper-middle-class parents for having the audacity to spend money on her that she's willing to do whatever it takes to get into a relationship that will statistically turn abusive at some point.


2. Both of these kids have such terminally low self-esteem that they're perfectly happy to mistake their toxic casual acquaintance for some kind of romantic connection, and they're willing to chase each other down that rabbit hole until at least one of them is alcoholic, pregnant, permanently incapable of meaningful intimacy, or all of the above.

Dance while you're still capable of feeling joy.

Funny enough, if that earring symbolizes anything, it's the sky-high chance that this relationship is going to end in disaster. Claire is a rich girl with diamonds and designer clothes, and Bender is a poor boy with hand-me-downs and cigarette burns. If you learn anything about love from this blog, it should be that love is far, far more likely to work out when two people have a lot of things in common, and socio-economic status is a big factor. Claire and Bender have grown up in different environments, with different social circles, hobbies and aspirations. In all likelihood, Claire is bound for college, a professional job, and a comfortable home in the suburbs. Bender will be lucky to stay out of prison. It's going to be impossible for him to empathize with her or offer any sympathy when she runs into problems, because when you go home to the Jerry Springer show every night, getting into your #2 choice of college instead of your #1 pick just doesn't seem like a real issue. Resentment is inevitable. Likewise, Claire is quickly going to become frustrated with him; when she and her friends start looking ahead to college and the real world and Bender keeps on being Bender, it's going to be hard for her to watch him sit back and complain about the world without making any effort to improve his circumstances in it. The best possible outcome is a bitter, hateful breakup that takes both of them months to recover from.

But hey, at least they had fun in detention.

1 comment

  1. Learn when to use an animated Gif. I couldn't concentrate on the writing because I was too busy getting punched in the eyes.


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