The Breakfast Club is a classic movie that entails the journey of five high school students who are spending their Saturday morning in detention. All of the students are from different backgrounds, families and social groups within their high school. There is “the criminal, the princess, the brain, the basket case and the athlete”. Since they all come from different lives and attain different characteristics, the beginning of the movie seems as if they have no intention on getting to know each other better.
However, throughout the movie they all encounter the chance to tell each other their stories in order to see each other differently. At the end of the movie, when they all see each other in a different light, they have the opportunity to change the dynamics of their high school forever. It is because of their stories, that they are able to acknowledge their differences but most importantly they are able to see that their share the same issues growing up.
Within their journey of the movie there are several topics that relate to theories of adolescent behavior. Since the movie is based off teenagers and how they react and accept others who did not mesh with them, we are able to base several theories off of their characters. The first theory that is apparent within the movie is the Psychoanalytical and Psychosocial views of Adolescence. These views were brought to light by Freud (Psychoanalytic) and Erikson (Psychosocial).
Within the Psychoanalytic Theory, Freud attests that people are born with “certain biological drives, such as sex, aggression and the need for superiority”. ( ) Freud argues that human behavior “is the result of the interactions among three component parts of the mind: the id, ego and superego” (LumenLearning). Freud also discusses the five Psychosexual Stages of Development. He described children as having these five stages in order to create a different source of pleasure. The first stage was oral, where the child looks for pleasure from the mouth. This could be from sucking (on a bottle, a binkie or from their mother). The second stage was anal (withholding feces), the third stage was phallic, and the fourth stage was latent (little to no sexual desire). The last stage was genital, meaning sexual intercourse. Freud thought that every person must complete these stages (successfully) in order to become a healthy adult. If the child was not able to complete these stages successfully, they would be stuck on that particular stage for the rest of their lives. This would in turn cause behavioral problems when they entered adulthood. (Positive Psychology)
John Bender could be a direct view of the Psychoanalytic end of the spectrum. He not only ignored the rules given by the principal throughout the entire movie, he was also aggressive. He always had to have the last word and he continued to make sexual remarks about Claire. There is a possibility that Bender never fully reached the point of being successful of all the stages. Perhaps, he never made it out of the oral stage, which could be the cause of his smoking.
Erikson presented a theory that led to more factors being considered when finding out who a person really was. He focused on eight stages of psychosocial development. These stages varied from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, Erikson said that the person would experience a psychosocial crisis and it would have a positive or negative outcome for their personality development. It was how the person handled the situation that would determine the outcome of the rest of their lives. According to Simple Psychology, upon successful completion of each stage would result in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues. “Basic virtues are characteristic strengths which the ego can use to resolve subsequent crises.” The stages are as followed: trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus role confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation and ego integrity versus despair.
The stage that happens during adolescence is Identity versus Role Confusion. This is the stage in which adolescents are just trying to find themselves and who they truly are. “Adolescence is a stage at which we are neither a child nor an adult, life is definitely getting more complex as we attempt to find our own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues” (Hardner, 2011). All five of these students throughout telling their stories come to find out that they are facing an identity crisis because they are in the stage of life where they are trying to break free from their parents. Since most of the energy they are putting into society seems to be negative, we can assume that the pressures at home are just too much for them to handle.
Andrew, the athlete tells his story about his father who pushes him to be a top athlete within the school. His father pressures and pushes him into doing something that he is not truly invested in. Since, as we said this is a vital stage of development for adolescents, his father is making it harder on him to successfully complete the level and become a functioning adult, in Erikson’s eyes. However, when all five of the kids start talking about the affects them, mentally and emotionally, viewers can see that what they are going through is normal and it shows that they are capable of growing.
The second theory that can be seen throughout the movie is the Social-Cognitive Theory. This theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous mutual interaction between three different influences. Albert Bandura first developed this theory. His view emphasized that “children learn through observing the behavior of others and by imitating the pattern.” (Pearson) This is also known as modeling. Bandura theorized that as children grow, they will imitate different models from their social environment. In many studies that were completed on this theory, it was concluded that in most cases the most significant adult(s) in the lives of the adolescents. This means that they are the most likely people to be modeled. Siblings, significant others, and friends are also people who were said to be modeled. This means that as the parents and closes people to those adolescent’s act has a direct result of how the people closest to them acted as that child was growing up. An example of this could be, adolescents whose parents drink, or abuse drugs are more likely to drink and use drugs when they are older.
Bandura also talked about the idea of “operant conditioning”. This theory was originally brought up by Skinner in 1938. Bandura expanded on his idea by discussing vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement. (Person) Vicarious reinforcement is experiencing others positive or negative consequences to their actions. This can be a model for adolescents because if they see someone being rewarded for acting negatively, they will believe that they can act negatively to be rewarded. Self-reinforcement consists of the “performance of a desired action”. This means that the adolescent sets goals for themselves and see the reward when the goal is met.
Within The Breakfast Club, it is obvious to see how these adolescents are molded from their parents and the people who are closest to them. All five of these adolescents have issues stemming from their parents. Claire was the one student who stood out the most to me when researching this theory. Claire talked about her parents using her as a pawn against each other. We can see that she also uses people several times throughout the movie. She is known as “the princess” in the movie and it can be said that this was mainly because her parents had money and bought her nice things instead of focusing on the more important things within life. At the end of the movie, she uses Bender to throw her parents over the edge. It can be assumed that her parents would have expected her to end up with someone like Andrew, the school jock. However, just as her parents have used her, she would soon use Bender to get back at them. Her parents were buying her off, and this lead her to her materialistic views on life. However, when we bring positive reinforcement into the conversation about Claire, we can see that her character changed into an individual, not someone walking in her parents shadow. Claire was presented in the movie with her flaws and her negative aspects, and that is something that she did not react well to at first. She would try to divert the blame and refused to take responsibility. However, towards the end of the movie, we can see that Claire was able to take her negative criticism and turn it into something that would make her better.
Even though Claire was the student who stood out the most to me, each and every one of these students were who they were because of their parents and their friends. This means that this theory stands to be one of the most credible when talking about adolescents.
I am sure that, all of these theories can be linked to all of the students in the movie but can also be linked to the group as a whole. This is something that makes this movie stand out and remain one of the all-time classics for every age of person today. It is important to remember that not every theory is necessarily correct and can be flawed. However, within this particular movie, we can see that certain theories can be connected to one or all characters and can be seen to be extremely valid.