Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an iconic cult classic, easy-going, hilarious, and despite it being released 35 years ago (exactly a month ago tomorrow), Ferris still captures everything a young person wants to be at this pivotal time in their life – the end of high school. There are many iconic scenes, however my focus in this blog article is on the museum scene in the city where Cameron, Ferris’s friend and portrayed by Alan Ruck, is captivated by a piece of artwork which leads him to be in a dissociative state for a good chunk of the rest of the film.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was painted by Georges Seurat between the years 1884 and 1886, and depicts many upper-class Victorians visiting a Parisian park, with a focus on the landscape; this masterpiece sparked the beginning the neo-impressionist movement, which is characterised by an interpretation of lines and colour based in science, and its use of divisionism as a technique to emulate dimension. Neo-impressionism was also founded with close ties to anarchism due to the founding artists’, including Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac, friendships with Parisian anarchist groups and leaders. It’s easy to link Ferris Bueller’s day off to the principles of anarchism too – all the teachers and adults (the authority) are portrayed as idiots who’s only goal is to stop the students having fun, and Ferris actively challenges and evades them, especially the headmaster Mr. Rooney, who Social scientist Martin Morse Wooster interprets “is obsessed with 'getting Bueller.' His obsession emerges from envy. Strangely, Ferris serves as Rooney's role model, as he clearly possesses the imagination and power that Rooney lacks. ... By capturing and disempowering Ferris, Rooney hopes to ... reduce Ferris's influence over other students, which would re-establish adults, that is, Rooney, as traditional authority figures,” – Ferris’s actions led to a loss of hierarchy, so maybe that’s why they chose this painting, however since this piece significantly affects Cameron only, the notion of authority resonates because of his arc being getting over his father's authority and suggested abuse of that power - Ferris encourages him to steal his fathers car and near the end of the film he pushes it out of the house and into the woods below, destroying it. However, I don't believe this is the only reason for this choice, because you wouldn't know about the history of the movement from simply looking at the painting, and it effected Cameron so intensely he stopped speaking.
Thankfully, Writer-Director John Hughes explained the choice of artwork himself, and it revolves around another aspect of Georges Seurat’s painting style – pointillism;
“I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie, the pointillist style. You don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it. … The more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him, the less you see.”
This quote likely resonates a lot with many of us, and to me it explains Cameron’s experience with this painting as one of very personal identity and insecurity, an issue everyone explores themselves, but is key in the development and coming-of-age of young people because they’re finally out in the world; recognised as an adult, but are still learning to recognise themselves as individuals, and how they want to show that identity to other people. They have to choose a job, they may need to make new friends, they’re expected to have life goals and everything together, but realistically they’ve just come out of an education system which teaches them very little practical knowledge, which traps them with peers that they hate but still have to conform to and lessons they have no interest in for 11 years (13 in the US) almost every day, another aspect of the film that is focused heavily on.
The founding of a new movement of art is used as a metaphor for trying to discover one’s own identity. The process of starting something new always ends with the end of something else – adulthood ends childhood, and that’s what the movie is about. Ferris Bueller’s day off is a comedy on the surface, but really shows the true struggle of this tremulous time for young people, and that’s why it resonates with even the youth today, and this is all demonstrated through art.
If someone ever asks why art is important, I believe this is the film to watch, and maybe that’s another aspect of its comedy.
If you, like Cameron, feel the importance of art, make sure to visit our gallery. While A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is in the Chicago institute for art and not our own gallery, we still display a variety of amazing different styles and artists, so you’re bound to find something that will inspire you.
The film stills used in this article are not owned by us and are used only for educational purposes.