John Hughes was a stunningly talented director, a wildly funny writer, a great friend, a Republican in a town where being a Republican takes some courage. But most of all, he was a poet. He was to the postwar middle class white kid what John Keats was to the age of upheaval during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.
John Hughes had many brilliant insights: his portrayal of the carnage that modern business travel wreaks in men's lives in Planes, Trains and Automobiles was by far the best evisceration of what deregulation has wrought, and a powerful comment about the loneliness of the life of the working middle-aged traveling man. His understanding of the mindset of the rich pre-teen child -- total paranoia combined with almost Hitlerian fantasies of power and sadism -- was made funny in his Home Alone movies. His thought that family is far more of a combined prison and circus than a heaven was brought to hilarious life by his National Lampoon's Vacation series.
But the insight that will make him immortal came in his teen movies, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and my favorite, the one that changed my life, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This insight was that the modern American white middle class teen combines a Saudi Arabia-sized reservoir of self-obsession and self-pity with a startling gift for exultation and enjoyment of life. No one had ever thought to note that along with James Dean's sulky self-obsession might also come a shriek of happiness at just being alive. John Hughes -- Republican -- saw that potential, saw that the individual still had the ability to transcend whatever was weighing him or her down and come out leading a parade down Michigan Avenue.
This insight sized up teens perfectly but also ennobled them, which made them -- and all of us -- love him. In a way, he was describing modern man of any age.
There is no one else who can lay a glove on this insight or portray it so magnificently in the young American.
John Hughes was irreplaceable.
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