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Tucked into the opening credits of John Hughes’ beloved 1985 teen classic, there’s a hint about what’s to come for its five central characters (the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal). As the camera pans through the halls of the fictional Sherman High School, it briefly focuses on a plaque adorned with the names and pictures of various “Men of the Year.” Smack in the middle, and sporting a winning smile: Carl Reed.
Audiences would be forgiven if they miss the Easter egg the first time around (luckily, like many Hughes films, “The Breakfast Club” is perfect for repeat viewings). It happens so early, and when we do meet Carl Reed (John Kapelos), he’s hardly doing the usual Man of the Year stuff. Instead, he’s pushing a garbage can around an empty Chicagoland high school, as a master of the “custodial arts” who now literally picks up the trash of kids who would have worshiped him a decade earlier.
Hughes never added in a traditional epilogue to his dramedy, which finds five very different teens temporarily trapped together during a Saturday detention session, but the possibilities (and probabilities) of what’s to come are obvious. On the surface, “The Breakfast Club” is a self-contained feature about what happens when people are finally able to look outside their own bubbles and embrace the people on the other side. It’s a good lesson for anyone, but an especially stirring one for teenagers trapped by their rigid cliques, familial demands, and evolving aspirations.
Hughes’ film, which he also wrote, finds space for the best and the worst of each of his characters, from popular kids like Claire (Molly Ringwald) and Andrew (Emilio Estevez) to the geeky Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), even the weirdos and burnouts like Bender (Judd Nelson) and Allison (Ally Sheedy). No one gets off easy, but that’s the point: In order to respect and care for each other, they have to chip away at all the boundaries and expectations that have kept them apart. In their little library quarantine, the five characters come to see each other, to maybe even love each other.
Which is what makes the tear-soaked final act standoff so wrenching. While the film ostensibly ends in strictly Pollyanna-ish territory — Claire and Bender are loved-up, just like Allison and Andrew, while Brian basks in the joy of having four new friends, and everyone wanders home with detention completed — Hughes has already forecast what’s really going to happen next.
Before the group end their day of forced isolation, they confront some hard truths about who they are, thanks to the introduction of Bender’s own weed stash and a roundabout conversation that goes from mirth (each of them shows off a weird talent to the others) to deep-seated pain (Bender’s barely concealed rage serves as the catalyst). Suddenly emboldened, Brian asks the most important question of all: What’s happens on Monday, when this is all over and the rest of the world comes barging back in?
It’s Claire who answers it best: They’re not going to be friends — at least, not in public, not where it counts. It’s a dark conclusion, especially after a day’s worth of bonding between the group, but it’s the truth. Ten minutes later, the film will present a much rosier ending, a path to a future that doesn’t really exist, even after its biggest revelation.
Initially, “The Breakfast Club” was going to offer another window into the future for its central group, one even more depressing and honest. In Susannah Gora’s 2010 book, “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes and Their Impact on a Generation,” it was the former Man of the Year himself who was set to lay out not just what happens on Monday, but long after that. He’d know, after all.
As Reuters reported, Kapelos “performed a rant during filming in which he tells all the teenagers what they’ll be doing in the year 2000. The scene, however, was one of many cut before the film’s release in theaters.” The actor later recalled, “I told Brian that he’s gonna be a big stockbroker, die of a heart attack at age 35. Claire’s gonna drive a Suburban and be a housewife. John Bender, if and when they let you out of prison…”
It’s not exactly a tough set of predictions to make. Anyone could have drawn up the same conclusions before the group was trapped in a room together for a day (or, in their own telling, that they “had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong”). And yet, it’s telling that Hughes cut that bit, and instead ended on a high note: Bender (Judd Nelson), fist thrown into the air in triumph, as the dulcet tones of Simple Minds reminds everyone to not forget about them. Maybe they didn’t.
“The Breakfast Club” is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime and Hulu.