Fuck Ferris, Cameron Frye is the one we ought to watch.
Let me tell you why Alan Ruck’s portrayal of hyper-anxious hypochondriac Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is super-important to survivors of emotional abuse.
I love Cameron Frye. Plain and simple. When I first watched John Hughes’ acclaimed 1986 hit “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, my attention was captured not by Matthew Broderick’s slick charm or witty one-liners — but by Alan Ruck tucked up in bed, surrounded by snotty tissues lamenting “let my Cameron go.”
You know the scene.
On paper, Cameron Frye is the ‘anti-Ferris Bueller.’ Described as uptight, depressive and a hypochondriac, he is thrown into his best friend’s hi-jinks (the titular pursuit of a Day Off) because Ferris needs a car. As the son of what we can assume is a wealthy but dangerously neglectful family, Cameron has access to his father’s prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder which is loved more than himself.
Cameron is essentially pressured into taking the car so Ferris can pick his girlfriend Sloane up from school, but is only able to do so after Cameron convincingly masquerades as her father on the phone to slimy Principle Ed Rooney. The trio successfully drive off to Chicago for their Day Off, Ferris and Sloane happily in front — Cameron buried under coats in the back.
And the next hour and forty-three minutes is cinematic history.
But do you want to know why I would gladly don a replica Gordie Howe jersey and pin a “Justice for Cameron-fucking-Frye” badge to every item of clothing I own?
Because Cameron goes through absolute hell during the course of this ‘American Teen Comedy.’
From a young age, it’s implied very casually that the result of Cameron’s neglectful but incredibly strict upbringing has resulted in his severe anxiety and depressive moods.
Ferris’s famous “lump of coal” quote is pretty much self-explanatory:
“If anybody needs a day off, it’s Cameron. He has a lot of things to sort out before he graduates. He can’t be wound this tight and go to college. His roommate’ll kill him. I’ve come close myself. But I like him. He’s a little easier to take when you know why he’s like he is. The boy cannot relax. Pardon my French but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”
(Like, geez Ferris, God forbid the guy is a little wound up and it’s ruining your buzz.)
If it isn’t already inherently clear, I do not like Ferris. Specifically, I have an intense dislike to how he treats Cameron.
Coming from someone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship from someone who was supposed to act as a guardian, friendships are usually the things that you cling to. Friends can offer respite from whatever is going on at home, becoming a source to whom you can vent and is someone who is a constant reliable factor. They are non-judgemental, good people.
But I have to agree with Jeanie Bueller on this one:
“Maybe Ferris isn’t such a bad guy. After all, I got a car! He got a computer. But still, why should he get to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants? Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so god damn special?
Ferris manipulates his privilege as a close friend over Cameron, namely the fact he admits to knowing why he (Cameron) is the way he is and instead uses it against him on multiple occasions to coerce him into doing the dirty work.
And this has been happening since the fifth grade, according to Cameron.
Ferris: If you’re not over here in fifteen minutes, you can find a new best friend.
Cameron: You’ve been saying that since the fifth grade.
It struck a real chord with me. For clarification to anyone who hasn’t been subjected to emotionally abusive aspects in their upbringing, your worth is often put into question and you are often ignored as a form of punishment.
As a result, your behaviour tends to modify in order to appease others so it is more likely for them to stick around, a la Cameron and Ferris.
I know, right?
Cameron Frye gets put through the ringer not only at home, but on this so-called Day Off too.
Luckily, throughout the city-based section of the film, we start to see our boy come out of his shell and let loose a little the further away he is from home (thank-you for laying off the guy for a second, John Hughes!)
Despite the break, Cameron is still fixating on his father, convinced he can see him from the top of Sears Tower — from one thousand, three hundred and fifty three feet, as Ferris helpfully supplies.
In the iconic scene where the gang visit the Art Institute of Chicago, filmed in dream-like shots with that gorgeous instrumental version of “Please, please, please let me get what I want” by The Smiths playing over the top — Cameron’s visible shell-shocked introspection is what tends to stick with audiences.
Eleanor Harvey, the curator of the museum explains in this article what I’ve been struggling to pinpoint for years about Cameron’s staring match with the pointillist eyes of a little girl in George Surat’s painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
“He’s struggling to find his place and he dives into the face of that little kid,” says Harvey. “It almost brings me to tears, because he’s having a soul-wrenching, life changing experience. When he comes out of that painting, he will not be the same.”
While Ferris and Sloane are, perhaps alarmingly, confident in who they are, Cameron is constantly searching for his raison d’être. Just as the little girl in the painting faces a different direction from everyone around her, Cameron is experiencing life differently from his peers and particularly his best friend. In this little girl, Cameron begins to understand himself.
“Cameron could not have anticipated that this would be anything but a fun goofball day and in a sense that painting becomes our first concrete clue that Cameron is deeper than everyone else in that movie.”
But perhaps the reason why I protect this fictitious character so fiercely is what is commonly referred to as “The Car Crash Rant.”
This is the bit where Cameron Frye and not the eponymous Ferris Bueller takes the floor and gets the powerful Emotional Arc that finally comes full circle.
After years of abuse, Cameron realises that the mistake the gang have made (by taking out the prized Ferrari) is not going to resolve itself and there will be consequences from his father. At the same time, he makes the choice to actually face how deep the neglect goes and delivers a monologue played with serious clout by Alan Ruck.
I tend to find that whenever I watch this scene with others, we are pretty much firmly split in terms of which character’s viewpoints we watch from.
Most are Ferris and Sloane, taken aback by the sudden outburst of frustration, anger, despair and violence.
Those of us who are Cameron wonder why the hell this took so long.
Cameron Frye is a survivor. For someone who comes from an emotionally crippling background which has affected him deeply, he shows a higher level of maturity and understanding than his counterparts. It is Cameron who takes the hit for what was ultimately Ferris’s mistake, not only deciding that he’s going to “have a chat” with his father when he comes home, but also choosing to “take a stand” against Ferris too.
“I’ll take the heat. No, I’ll take it. I want it. If I didn’t want it I wouldn’t have let you take the car out this morning. I could’ve stopped you. It is possible to stop Mr. Ferris Bueller, you know. No. I want it. I’m gonna take it. When Morris comes home, he and I will just have a little chat. It’s cool. No, it’s gonna be good. Thanks anyway.”
Cameron Frye’s story and arc has stuck with me throughout my own experiences with abuse. Eventually, I had to take a stand after realising that there is only so much a person can take before they simply can’t anymore.
And whilst I certainly didn’t kick a Ferrari out of a seriously modern glass garage in the forest (OTT much, Mr Frye?) — it was remembering Cameron as someone else at the end of their tether that helped me pluck up the courage to kick the crap out of my own metaphorical antique automobile.
My own emancipation from abuse and the person who did it was a lot quieter, a lot slower and a lot less explosive. But once it was done, I genuinely felt like I suddenly had an abundance of Days Off to come.
So to finish, it may have been 30 years since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off hit the big screen and sure, Cameron deems Ferris his hero…
But Cameron Frye is well and truly mine.