Cameron: We’re pinched for sure.
Ferris: No way, Cameron. Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive. Let’s go.
Cameron: Let’s surrender.
–“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
You’ve probably heard of the “Fight Club” fan theory regarding the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which brilliant and charming Ferris and sad-sack hypochondriac Cameron are the same person; Ferris is Cameron’s “imaginary friend” if you will, or alter-ego; everything Cameron wishes he could be.
So when Cameron is arguing with Ferris at the beginning of the film about playing hooky, he’s basically wrestling with his own anxiety and neuroses, unwilling to move past his comfort zone to a higher level of self-actualization.
Picture the following scene taking place only in Cameron’s own mind:
It is only when his dad’s red Ferrari (symbolizing all the negative imprinting from Cameron’s earliest years) is destroyed that our boy can heal and move on. His near-drowning/possible suicide attempt in the swimming pool, complete with Ferris “saving” him, represents his rebirth (water-baptism) as a more whole human being; he no longer “needs” Ferris, allowing this tulpa/trickster spirit to move on to other adventure.
Of course, there’s another theory that Ferris Bueller in actuality is just a complete and total jerk—a horrible, extremely selfish human being not worthy of adulation or praise.
Some proponents of this concept believe that the 1999 comedy Election, in which Matthew Broderick plays a Principal Rooney-type character who is constantly bedeviled by a Bueller-like female student, was “karmic payback” for Ferris’ formerly wicked ways.
Bueller grew up to be high school teacher Jim McAllister (changing his name, of course, along the way as to carefully avoid infamy), and had to “burn” his karma painfully with the devious Tracy Flick.
Compare McAllister’s obsession with “stopping” Flick with Rooney’s hatred for Ferris:
Surely, Broderick’s casting as McAllister was most likely done with the ironic metatextual meaning in mind. Though in a broader sense, as we’ve recently seen with Bill Murray, there seems to be somewhat of a subconscious self-referentiality within the overall body of an actor’s work, in which later roles allude to earlier ones (and vice-versa).
But Ferris’ karmic payback might have actually begun with the 1996 movie The Cable Guy, in which Broderick is mercilessly stalked by a sinister Jim Carrey. Again, we have the ultra-cocky “Ferris” brought down by a person who is far more than his match. Perhaps Ferris-as-Sociopath was barely noticeable in the materialistic 1980s of Ronald Reagan and Gordon Gekko—however his “counterparts,” at the very edge of the Millennium, are more clearly deranged.
(It must also be part of the “joke” in The Cable Guy that both the Broderick and Carrey characters sort of look similar, with the same hairstyle…two opposite sides of the same coin, as Ferris/Cameron and The Narrator/Tyler Durden are.)
By 2005, Broderick plays probably the biggest schmendrick in all of theater history: Felix Unger, in a much-ballyhooed revival of The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane.
With Unger, every last shred of Bueller’s hyper-confidence and swagger has evaporated into a melange of allergic hacking and pseudo-suicidal tendencies. The karmic “comeuppance” of the character is now complete…
…but as in the case of the recent “Groundhog’s Day” commercial with Murray, there is one final notch on the karmic wheel for the Actor and his most famous Role. In 2017, Broderick appeared in a Honda ad timed with the Super Bowl, in which apparently a middle-aged Bueller revisits all the key sites from his famous Day Off:
Having gone full circle and “paid” for his crimes against humanity, Ferris Bueller is allowed to return, if only for a few moments, to his former glory.
As for the “real” identity of Ferris, per the “Fight Club” theory…well, it has been my observation that while I did have a crush on Matthew Broderick in the role when I was a kid, I now as an adult find Alan Ruck’s Cameron much more attractive. And perhaps that’s because…he was the “realest” person in that entire movie: