I was 13 when I watched my first ‘80s movie. I was in eighth grade and still a very long way from understanding myself. My biggest strength and weakness to this day is my cautiousness, and when I was younger, I enjoyed making decisions where I could clearly label one choice as “right” and another as “wrong.” But the world can’t be compartmentalized into two boxes. And as I grew up, I discovered another equally strong part of myself that enjoyed making the “wrong” decisions, a part of myself rewarded by the unique and exciting experiences that came out of such decisions. When I was 13, however, all I knew was safety. I was afraid of making the “wrong” decisions, and consequently, I wasn’t satisfied with the life I was living.
Then I watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” a quintessential ‘80s movie. I was at home with my sister and I chose it on a whim, tired of scrolling through an endless array of movies I never planned to see. I didn’t realize how significant that decision would eventually become. When I watched the film, I felt a longing for the freedom Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) and his friends seemed to have. In the movie, they were making all kinds of “wrong” decisions, and as a result, they were rewarded with experiences unlike anything I ever had. I watched starry-eyed as Ferris talked his way out of every tricky situation in which he ended up, doing what he wanted when he wanted and not suffering any consequences. I wanted the carefree happiness that he had. Sure, the movie dabbled with some heavy coming-of-age themes along the way. But, its conclusion was clear to me — no matter the issue, everything will work out fine, so you might as well have some fun along the way.
In the coming years, I devoured movies like this one in the search for films that could give me a glimpse into this tantalizing vision of high school so far from my reality. I watched, mouth agape, as Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) gets the boy of her dreams in “Sixteen Candles.” I saw Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) get accepted to Princeton in “Risky Business” — even after inadvertently turning his home into a brothel on the day of his college interview. I think I cried the first time I watched “The Breakfast Club.” When stereotypical nerdy boy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) talks about how his standard of academic perfection is so high that he has thought about killing himself over a bad grade, I thought about my own academic anxiety, which sometimes swelled up inside me like a balloon until I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When Brian reveals that the gun he has brought to school is only a flare gun, he and his friends collapse into a fit of laughter. In that moment, something so heavy turns unexplainably light, and I felt my own anxiety drain away with them. While not technically an ‘80s movie, “American Pie” similarly moved me. It awoke a desire in me for somebody to love me and want me for who I was, despite and because of all of my quirks. How I wanted my prom night to be as imperfectly perfect as the movie depicted it.
But, as I got older, one fact became more and more inescapable to me — this teenage fantasy world that I had come to love was not real. Real was getting an eye infection in the last month of senior year that caused me to miss prom. Real was having that anxiety come back the next day and the one after that, and real was the grueling battle that ensued to try and manage it. Real was getting rejected from the college of my dreams; it was having relationships that didn’t work; it was looking in the mirror day after day and realizing I’m still not exactly who I want to be.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve had to understand that no matter how badly I want it to be different, I live in a world with consequences and struggles. And though things never really seem to work out the way they were depicted on screen, I have to thank these movies. Despite how inaccurate to reality and problematic and ridiculous they are, they gave me the courage to challenge how I was living my life. These movies inspired me to make riskier decisions, to say yes to different opportunities, to stop thinking every once in a while and appreciate just how exciting and unpredictable life can truly be.
Contact Rhea Srivats at [email protected].
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.