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Psychoanalysis of Film The Breakfast Club: John Bender

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Table of contents

  1. The Breakfast Club
    John Bender
    Erik Erikson’s View
    Marcia’s Identity Status
    Relationship with Parents and Siblings
    Role of Friendships and Romantic Relationships

The Breakfast Club

The movie The Breakfast Club, directed by John Hughes in 1985, shows a group of five adolescents who are going through high school. These adolescents face difficulties that place them into Saturday detention. Each high school student is from a different walk of life. John Bender is the rebel, Claire is the princess, Brian is the nerd, Allision is the outcast, and Andrew is the jock. The supervising teacher, Mr. Richard Vernon, assigns the students a one-thousand-word essay to write in which they must discuss who they think they are. Mr. Vernon is a harsh teacher who does not allow the students to talk to one another and even verbally acts John Bender. Once Mr. Vernon leaves, the teenage drama begins. John Bender does not obey Mr. Vernon’s rules and riles up the other students by bullying them. Eventually, however, each student is able to tell their secrets which allows the others to see them differently than they did before. John Bender comes from rough home life, Claire faces peer pressure, Brain contemplated suicide, Allision is a compulsive liar, and Andrew struggles to think for himself. Also, the students realize that they all have poor relationships with their parents. In the end, the students realize that they had more in common than they originally thought, and they become friends, which was hard to imagine due to their interactions at the beginning of the movie.


John Bender

Although there are five different students within the movie who all face crises in their lives, the character of focus is the rebel, John Bender. At the beginning of the film, John Bender is shown giving no respect to anyone including teachers. Bender finds satisfaction in making others feel uncomfortable. He makes fun of Andrew for his wrestling, humiliates Brain, and sexually harasses Claire. However, he never says anything about Allision and actually stands up for her at one point. Through discussion with the others in detention, Bender’s home life is exposed. He informs his classmates that his father is an alcoholic and abuses him. Then he shows a burn mark on his arm from his father’s cigarette that was a punishment for spilling paint in the garage. Bender also shows no interest in extracurriculars although he is shown to be both athletic and smart throughout the film. All in all, Bender is portrayed as the rebel in the group; however, in the end, he opens up and his feelings are displayed.

Erik Erikson’s View

During adolescence, Erik Erikson describes the psychosocial crisis as “individual identity versus identity confusion”. According to the textbook, this crisis “results from pulling together the many components of the self including changing perspectives on one’s inner sense of beliefs and values as well as new and changing social demands into a unified image that can propel the person toward positive, meaningful action”. In the movie The Breakfast Club, John Bender can be seen facing this crisis of self-identity. At the beginning of the movie, Bender is portrayed as a rebel who does not listen to anyone and enjoys picking on others. Throughout the movie, Bender is shown opening up to his classmates and finding his true identity. By talking out his feelings and opening up, Bender is able to resolve his identity crisis of trying to be who he’s not live up to the expectations that are placed on him. In the end, bender overcomes his crisis and is able to make meaningful and positive goals for the future instead of acting out and using drugs like in the past. 

Marcia’s Identity Status

Within the textbook, James Marcia’s identity status concept is discussed. According to the textbook, Marcia evaluated identity status on crisis and commitment. The crisis is defined as the “period of role experimentation, exploration and active decision making” while commitment is the “demonstration of personal involvement in the areas of conceptual choice, religion, political ideology, and interpersonal relationship”. The textbook then goes on to state that within Marcia’s identity status, individuals are classified as identity achievement, foreclosure, moratorium, or confusion. In this case, John Bender can be described as fitting into the identity confused category. The textbook describes identity confusion as to the state of complete lack of commitment and typically demonstrates a party attitude. These characteristics fit with Bender’s personality of not having any commitments, whether it be extracurriculars and/or academics. Bender is also seen using drugs and alcohol, which matches the party attitude characteristic of the identity confusion status. Although Bender has an identity status of confusion, throughout the film he begins to develop into a different status. At the end of the film, Bender has changed and is seen in a relationship with Claire. These types of changes place Bender into the identity status of the moratorium. The moratorium, according to the textbook, involves individuals who are undergoing exploration and experimentation in an attempt to discover how they fit in certain roles. Once opening up to others and being able to be himself, Bender is seen going through explorations to discover where he belongs. In total, John Bender begins with the identity status of confusion then develops into a moratorium. 

Relationship with Parents and Siblings

As stated earlier, Bender did not have a good home life. Bender’s father was an alcoholic and abusive towards him. In the film, Bender’s delinquency and drug use are said to stem from his messed-up family life. The emotional, physical, and mental abuse that Bender is facing from his father is ultimately causing him to act out. As a way to deal with his emotions, he bullies others, disrespects people, and uses drugs. Overall, this conflict between Bender and his father is resulting in rebellion. In the end, the conflict does not go away; however, after detention and being able to talk to others about his feelings, Bender begins to lessen his rebellious acts. The relationship between Bender and his father is the only relationship that is discussed throughout the film. It is unknown if Bender has any siblings or if the mother is involved, so it is difficult to know what these relationships are like. However, since they are not mentioned in the film, it can be assumed that the relationship between his mother and siblings are not having an impact on Bender.

Role of Friendships and Romantic Relationships

At the beginning of the film, Bender does not have many friends. Bender finds pleasure in bullying and harassing others; therefore, he did not have many friends. However, throughout the course of the film, Bender opens up to the other students in detention. These students serve as an outlet for Bender. Before detention, he was not able to and restrained from talking to people about his feelings. Once he is able to open up to the other students, Bender is able to grow and develop away from his rebel ways. Also, his romantic relationship with Claire that begins to form in detention allows Bender to open up more. His relationship with Claire allows him to gain trust and feel secure enough that he is able to show his real self. All in all, the role of friendships and romantic relationships allows Bender to discuss his thoughts and feelings. 


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