The late John Hughes will have no shortage of tributes, and there is a real sense amongst many of my generation that he helped define as much as chronicle what it meant to be a white, suburban middle-class teen in America during the 80s. And one of his strongest suits for me was that many of his best films explored the issues of class in a money obsessed decade. Granted that his films completely ignored issues surrounding race and ethnicity—unless you want to call Long Duck Dong a character. And while Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) holds a special place in my heart, his masterpiece is undoubtedly The Breakfast Club (1985), and in no small part thanks to the brilliant performance of Paul Gleason as the assistant principle.
And if there was one scene from any Hughes film I would quote, it would have to be the scene wherein Gleason brings Bender into the closet and threatens to show up later in his life and kick the living shit out of him. It’s a remarkable scene for many reasons: Bender visibly caves as the haunting music starts; Gleason’s character transforms from a buffoon to a truly harrowing menace; the whole question of inevitability as seen through social class rears its ugly head—perhaps more potently than anywhere else in a Hughes film. “When you’re caught up in your own pathetic life, I’ll be there…” It is one of the rare moments in Hughes’s 80s high school films where the comic veil is removed for a second, and the truly agonistic struggle of power and class (with the setting appropriately being a high school) rears its ugly head.