“When We Get Older, Our Hearts Die”
So often, movies of the 80s are easily dismissed as silly teen angsty drivel that becomes irrelevant once a person leaves that painful adolescent period. This line of thinking is maintained by the misguided idea that many adults hold wherein they view teenage suffering as being somehow less or inferior to adult suffering. This is a particularly queer outlook when you consider that every adult was obviously once a teenager him/herself. As an early 30-something myself, I can honestly say that I still connect with many of the same movies that I did in my youth because that part of me still lives on. Maybe it doesn’t for some people, maybe they really do fall into that scary adult trap that Allison bleakly tells her fellow Breakfast Clubers about in John Hughes’ 80s classic movie: “When you grow up, your heart dies”.
For those of us with undead hearts (that didn’t come out quite right), here’s a list of the top 3 teen 80s flicks that are as relevant in our adulthood as they were in during our teen years.
3 .ST. ELMO’S FIRE
Okay, so this isn’t a teen movie, strictly speaking. The characters are all in their early 20s and fresh out of university but they’re still dealing with so many adolescent emotions and the hard reality of leaving adolescence for adulthood that I’m going to sneak this one through because it’s the perfect movie that bridges the gap between our teenage lives and adulthood. It also stars half of the so-called Brat Pack, so that accounts for something (but it is not a John Hughes movie as is so often supposed).
The funny thing about this one is that while I enjoyed it when I first saw it as a teenager (admittedly, Judd Nelson accounted for a lot of that), it is only recently that I’ve come to truly appreciate this one. One of the brilliant things about “St Elmo’s Fire” is that it shows how throughly messed up we all are even when, and perhaps most especially when, we’re supposed to have “figured it all out”. We’re supposed to be “grown ups” and that doesn’t really happen in the way you think it will when you’re young.
The pivotal moment of this movie is when Demi Moore’s Jules says, “I never thought I’d be so tired at 22… I just don’t know who to be anymore.” In more sober moments, I still think of that line, only I interject whatever age I am currently in place of 22. This is a moving film that certainly has its faults, but the actors all give such poignant performances that we can painfully relate to that frightening uncertainty of growing older and the even scarier possibility of never “figuring it out”.
Oh, and there’s the awesome theme song, of course:
2 . PRETTY IN PINK
This movie is the perfect example of why Molly Ringwald was the 80s queen. As Andie, she’s smart, spunky, and many of us can relate to her in some way in this movie. She takes care of a loving but loser of a dad, puts up with a lovably annoying and lovesick best friend, and on top of all of this, she falls for the wrong guy. Who among us hasn’t fallen in love with the wrong person at some point in our lives? Plus, James Spader is just so coolly awful in this one that it’s difficult not to be mesmerized by his wickedness.
“Pretty In Pink” fans can essentially be divided into two categories: “Yay, Blaine the Appliance Won” and “It Should’ve Been Duckie”. I’ll openly admit to whole heartedly being a member of the “It Should’ve Been Duckie” team. Sure, Blaine is super cute (Andrew McCarthy = pretty swoonable) and, in the end, he’s a good guy, but Duckie is just so helplessly devoted to Andie
throughout the movie, plus he marches to the beat of own Thoreauian drum that I just can’t help but love him. Not to mention the fact that Duckie stands up for Andie WAY before Blaine ever does.
The biggest reason this movie stands out, however, is Andie’s unwavering conviction and self confidence. She knows who she is and she never allows herself to be dragged down. Andie learns to hold her head up high and to “stick it to the bad guys” by being happy with who she is. This is a lesson that, unfortunately, must be repeated over and over again regardless of age. There’s always going to be those set of jerks who are so unhappy themselves that they feel they must belittle others. This inner strength is epitomized in her powerful, inspirational line:
“I JUST WANT THEM TO KNOW THEY DIDN’T BREAK ME.”
Oh, it gives me chills every time!
1 . THE BREAKFAST CLUB
I’m tempted to just leave all commentary off on this one and have the title stand on its own because “The Breakfast Club” is such a universally recognized brilliant exemplar of how disillusionment and bigotry can turn into understanding and tolerance if everyone would just take the time to talk to each other. However, I’m not that lazy and, besides, I’m always up for some TBC talk!
One of the key successes of this movie is that it manages to represent the heart of what teen life (and, let’s not kid ourselves, adult life, too) is all about: vulnerability. Being a teenager is a particularly frightening and confusing time, a time when everyone should be more tolerant of each other than usual because we’re all in the same identity crisis boat but, somehow, the exact opposite is usually the case, which is just completely mind boggling. Most everyone can relate to at least one of the principle cast whether it’s the brain, the basket case, the jock, the princess, or the criminal (and I’d wager that many of us think of ourselves as being some sort of a strange hybrid of all of five). Their words move us because we understand where they’re coming from.
The script is impeccable, the performances are spot on, and the timing is perfect.
The direction is minimal and works well to enhance the weight behind the dialogue. Each actor is perfectly cast. The character favourite is most always Bender, which is interesting in itself. John Bender, the criminal, the asshole, can be so cruel it’s a wonder that we like him at all; and yet, we know as an audience, that his cruelness is his facade. His cruelness is his only escape from the hellish home life he has to endure. In eventually taking the time to understand his fellow detentionaires, Bender finally reveals his sensitivity, his empathy, and his vulnerability.
Each character has his/her strengths and flaws. Claire is snobbish and proud, but she’s also feeling and caring; Andy is cocky and a bully to those weaker than himself, but he’s also loyal and unafraid to stick up for his beliefs; Allison is weird and wants to be invisible, but she’s also intuitive and artistic; Brian is spineless and afraid,but he’s also intelligent and always sticks up for those he cares about; Bender is verbally abusive and tries to intiminate others, but he’s also brave and he hides a sensitive heart. The layered personas are what make us care so much for these characters because these characters are ourselves.
These same insecurities and the emotional instability that plagues us as teenagers continue to plague us regardless of age because this is what it is to be human. Just like Bender, we’re afraid that if we disappear, if we didn’t exist, it wouldn’t even matter. We care and we’re afraid that others don’t. This is why “The Breakfast Club” matters. This is why, when we get older, we can’t ever let our hearts die.