What Cameron Frye from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Can Teach College Students Today

I re-watched one of my favorite movies during quarantine, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and it got me thinking a lot differently than I used to about the film—besides that my dad can quote every line in the movie. True, the film has always been a comfy coming-of-age film with jokes, and an eclectic soundtrack; however, after being in film school I’m now starting to think of what the character, Cameron Frye, really invokes. Cameron is the embodiment of our anxieties and uncertainties. He’s also that ticking neurosis many of us deal with—a symbol of how we manage our mental health and our futures. 

Meet Cameron Frye. He’s a college senior who doesn’t know what he really wants for the future. He lives with his rich, strict parents who constantly push him around. It doesn’t help that his friends push him into doing things too (he’s got the car and the money, and Ferris really is kind of a jerk to him), and his voice never seems to matter. All these stressors and pressure makes Cameron a very nervous hypochondriac on the verge of collapse (actually does twice with the *spoilers* pretend catatonia and the “car crash rant”). But revealing another layer, he’s a kid trying to figure out life when anxiety is rearing its head. Many teenagers know this struggle, so with Cameron, we see us. Not the crazy, selfish Ferris or the confident Sloane, but Cameron. Cameron’s the complex character that sticks out the most. We get to see him actually becoming someone he is proud of being.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Several scenes show how Cameron’s anxieties have many origins. Our first introduction to Cameron is Ferris’s explanation that Cameron is so uptight, his house is like a museum, and he’s the only person to enjoy sick days. Those anxieties with going along with plans is further indicated with the famous “I won’t” scene, in which he does eventually go to pick up Ferris. The anxiety shows again when they take out the Ferrari, and he is incredibly worried of the mileage and scratches. His father never thinking he’s worth it pushes him into turmoil throughout the movie. He also talks of how he has no idea of what is going on in his life, and he is just standing watching everything out of control. The last indication I will bring up is in the museum when Cameron stares at Seurat’s painting. He’s looking at a mother and her expressionless child; as discussed by director John Hughes, it resonates that he is nothing and has grown up in a childhood with no love. It’s a depressing thought but poignant.

One other example that is carried throughout the film is Cameron’s jersey. One, it’s Detroit Red Wings so representing that Michigan pride! But why in Chicago? Hughes revealed that the jersey reminded Cameron of his grandfather taking him to Detroit Red Wings games as a child, the only familial love he knew. The jersey was of player Gordie Howe, known as “Mr. Hockey,” who was a strong and confident guy, one that Cameron dreamed of being. That’s why he always wore it—it reminded him of who he could be.

After he damages the car in a fit of rage against his father, Cameron learns that he has to stand up for himself. He learns that he has to take control of his life so that he can actually be involved in his own life. His life is worth something. Ferris Bueller’s famous line sums it up: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Cameron starts taking control of his life and getting the self-respect and worth he deserves. He also figures out who he is and that he can stand up to his parents. Cameron is a symbol of all the anxieties college students face and decisions we have to make. He represents how we can overcome our stresses and find both hope and self-worth. We may have struggles to deal with, but we can enjoy life’s moments as they come, figuring out what’s best for us. So, kudos to Cameron Frye for championing mental health. Maybe it should have been his day off.