School’s Out!: Celebrating summer with two timeless classics

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

This week at the Tryon Theater, we have a pairing of two films to embrace the end of the school year and the start of summer. 

“The Graduate” (Nichols 1967) and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Hughes 1986) in are two beloved classics that both take place as an academic chapter comes to a close in the respective lives of the protagonists, one the end of college, and one the end of high school. Both of these films are focused on their protagonists’ introspection, their distinct neuroticism born of the anxiety of taking the next step in life, of leaving the structure of school for whatever the undetermined future holds. 

While both films are excellent in their artistic exploration of this mental state, the direction in which each film takes this underlying tension is how they differ.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The Graduate” is significantly more mature in its perspective on youth, a painful but sentimental retrospection on a time of boundless possibility combined with crippling complacency. This film, while focused on coming of age, is focused on that most precarious transition between higher education and the world of full adulthood. Its protagonist, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), is an adult in a formal sense, but deeply arrested in his emotional development, generationally burdened. The delicate interplay of his pride, insecurity, and desire create an enrapturing, and deeply sad, portrait of becoming an adult, rife with all of its contradictions and complexities. 

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” on the other hand, approaches its foundational anxiety with an endearing and passionate sense of escapism; a wistful and unabashed love letter to the sense of freedom that is only possible when most of your life’s road is still ahead of you. The eponymous Ferris (Matthew Broderick) is an infectiously charming trickster, a kind of chaotic and manipulative protagonist that can flourish in a world where the consequences are never fully realized and luck is perpetually on his side. This film operates with a buoyant sense of freedom, and an indulgent, if not compelling, argument for prioritizing joy as the only answer to life’s mundanity and pressure. This film does not ignore the reality of life looming on the horizon, but neither does it buckle under its weight, instead keeping it safely at the periphery of the plot’s scope. 

We have chosen these two films in celebration of the school year’s end, an anticipatory excitement of the summer’s potential. The meaning and value of this season changes with our age, our perspectives evolving over time. Both “The Graduate” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” are perfect emotional time capsules of those early stages of evolution, a window, if only for a couple hours, into a time of life since passed, now distilled in bittersweet nostalgia. Hopefully seeing them again, or seeing them for the first time, can find the right sentiments! 

“The Graduate” will play on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday 2:30 p.m., and Saturday at 7 p.m. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” shows Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and Sunday and 2:30 p.m.