Ferris Bueller: 80s Trickster In folklore the trickster is vastly important; they are often times both the hero and the villain in their stories. Their classification is also one of the most specific in storytelling, needing to be a mediator, a shape shifter, and display amorality to be classified as a true trickster. Every culture seems to have their own version of the trickster; the Norse had Loki, the people from Ghana had Anansi, and the Greeks had Prometheus.
Just as it is in folklore, films often utilize the trickster archetype and none more so than John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris displays the classic characteristics of a trickster; he mediates between parties of people, applies “shape shifting” by the way of disguises, and displays quite a bit of amorality throughout the film. These actions call to mind the myths of Loki and Anansi as they both have stories that possess similar elements to Ferris’ adventure. As the classification demands, Ferris has moments when he acts as a mediator, “shape shifts”, and behaves quite amorally.
Over the course of the film, Ferris acts as a mediator between all types of parties: between different cliques, students and administration, adults and teenagers, high brow and low brow alike. “Well, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude. ” (FBDO, 14:40-:55) He flits between the defined social distinctions and charms everyone he comes into contact with.
His parents’ financial status allows for him to be in possession of technology that grants him access to the school’s records, permitting him to change not only his number of absences but also to seemingly do the same for other students. When he interacts with other students, how infrequently it is on screen, he does not seem to care very much their age or social status in the high school pecking order; he treats all of his peers equally. Though he isn’t seen interacting with them often, it is implied from all the reactions to his ill health that he is much loved by the student body.
Of course the regard is not limited to his fellow students; it is all manner of people who seem to send their well wishes to him. The police force sends their concern with his mother when she is at the station to pick up his sister, the sign out in front of Wrigley Field displays the message “Save Ferris,” and the English department at his school sends flowers for his quick recovery. While he doesn’t shape shift in the traditional sense (i. e. he does not change his actual physical appearance beyond clothing) he does disguise himself through careful application of his wit.
To spark his whole day off, Ferris fakes being sick because “how could he possibly be expected to go to school on a day like that. ” He puts on quite the performance with his parents initially (FBDO :30-3:15) and continues to do so throughout the day via telephone calls and elaborate set ups to convince his parents that he was in fact within the house all day. This disguise was so successful that rumors were quickly spreading around the community about how grave his supposed situation was, to the extent that students were raising funds for a supposed kidney transplant that he needed.
He also disguised himself, with the additional help of his best friend Cameron, as his girlfriend’s father to allow Sloane to be excused for the day. He achieves this success by timing two different phone calls to Ed Rooney, one from Cameron pretending to be Mr. Peterson and another from himself requesting his sister to be allowed to bring home any work that he missed. The second call was to prove to Mr. Rooney, Dean of Students at his high school, that the first call was not a fake call from him, rather to seem to be truly from Mr.
Peterson. This ruse is followed up by the boys picking up Sloane from school using Cameron’s father’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California and a carefully worn trench coat and fedora, and is successful once again. Another of his successful disguises is as Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago. This ploy was used at a very high end restaurant to allow him and his two companions to dine there without previously having a reservation. The achievement of this ruse was gained once again by the way of phone calls.
An irate “Abe Froman” demands to use the phone at the maitre‘d station to call the police as the man simply wouldn’t believe Ferris’ ruse, he then calls the restaurant’s number and forces the maitre’d to use the kitchen phone to allow a visual separation between the three teens and the man. Ferris then gets Sloane to pretend to be searching for Mr. Froman, and at the prompting of the maitre’d, describes Froman exactly as Ferris is at the time. Then when the maitre’d is about to return he decides to check the other line and supposedly hears a gruff police officer addressing “Mr. Froman. The combination of phone calls allows enough certainty for the man to allow the group of three in to the fine establishment. All of these ruses and points of mediation are achieved from a decided lack of morality on Ferris’ part. He is not afraid to lie and manipulate any and all he encounters to have his perfect day off, including his best friend. His treatment of Cameron is less than kind in parts, “borrowing” his father’s prized Ferrari despite many passionate protests, threatening to de-friend Cameron if he is not at his house in fifteen minutes, and other snide remarks about him throughout the film.
Though it is shown again and again that Ferris truly cares for his best friend, he had no reservations in using severity to get what he wanted. Ferris’ interactions with almost every character in the movie, either major or minor, are tinged with amorality which cements his position as a trickster. Over the course of the film, Ferris asserts his position as a trickster much like Loki does in the Poetic Edda’s Thrymskvida. This myth in particular features Loki using disguises to aid Thor in the successful retrieval of Mjolnir from the giant Thrym.
When Thrym steals Mjolnir from the god he demands the goddess Freyja as payment for the return, meaning to make her his wife. She was noted as the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility; a very desirable bargaining chip. However, because Freyja was not technically part of the ? sir they didn’t want to part with her, and so Loki plans a way for Thor to be disguised in her stead. Loki dresses Thor as the bride, with a veil obviously, and himself as a bridesmaid, and they travel to Jotunheim to attend the wedding.
The ruse is successfully pulled off, though Thor does eat an entire ox himself and requires the application of Loki’s silver tongue to explain away the odd behavior for “Freyja. ” At the end of the reception Thrym places Mjolnir into his bride’s hands and is quickly struck down by Thor, allowing him and Loki to return home with their prize. The combination of disguise and persuasive lies Loki uses over the course of the myth is very much like the actions of Ferris in the movie. Both get their desired end by the way of their quick wit and talent for disguises.
During Ferris’ many adventures it is shown that he is quite cunning, able to talk his way out of (or into) any situation with ease. He is capable of thinking on his feet and changing plans quite quickly (shown in his final race home) which is very much like the myths of Anansi. In his first myth, “How Anansi got his stories,” Anansi negotiates a deal with his father Nyame to gain all the stories. The price settled on is Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and the Mmoboro Hornets; Anansi must bring all three to Nyame if he is to gain possession of the stories.
So he went out to complete his tasks. He first went to where Onini lived and began wondering aloud whether or not Onini was really longer than the palm branch like his wife said, and upon hearing this the snake goes out to Anansi to help him determine the truth. However Onini cannot stay completely straight to judge accurately so Anansi suggests tying him to the branch to determine the truth. Onini agrees and as soon as he is tied, Anansi carries him off to Nyame. After that, Anansi plotted to capture Osebo; he dug a pit and camouflaged it so that the leopard would fall into its depths.
Once this came to pass, Anansi offers his webs to help Osebo get out of the pit; the leopard agrees to the plan, but once he is free of the pit he is instead caught up in Anansi’s webs. Anansi then proceeds to take Osebo to Nyame. To capture the Mmoboro, Anansi empties a calabash of water over a banana leaf over his head and the hornets’ nest, crying out that it was raining. He then convinces the hornets to get into the empty calabash for shelter, and when they agree, he stops up the end and takes them to Nyame.
At that point, all three tasks are completed and Nyame grants Anansi all the stories, making him the god of stories. In order to complete each of the tasks given to him, Anansi had to plan according to each targets’ characteristics creating specified plans for each, but also being quick to ensure his lies were heeded. Ferris is the exact same way, displaying a cleverness that allows him quick changes in plans according to each situation as it unfolds. Both are capable of applying their cleverness to the plans laid out to achieve success.
In his 1986 classic, John Hughes creates a character that is the everyman’s trickster. Ferris Bueller is the guy’s guy, capable of having the most amazing day possible in Chicago while convincing everyone that he is actually sick in bed. Ferris is every bit the trickster in the eighties culture as Loki and Anansi were in their respective cultures, displaying amorality, shape shifting by the way of disguises, and acting as a mediator. After all, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.