John Bender: Triumph of a “Loser”

My favorite movie has long been, “The Breakfast Club.”

And John Bender is the best character.

The entire plot centers around him, really. The iconoclast. The antagonist!

Yes, he provokes everyone. But he gets them to think. And by the end, each character has learned something about themselves and bonded with the other characters– mainly because of the shenanigans of John Bender.

However, Mr. Vernon presents him as a “loser.” One of the pivotal dramatic scenes in the movie centers around an argument between the two, where Bender refuses to back down and earns himself two months worth of detention. Vernon leaves feeling empowered, having exposed Bender’s weakness: his ego.

Vernon is a very angry man, and he takes it out on his students.

Every character is identified by a label in the movie– and Bender is the criminal.

Has he actually committed any crimes? That’s the assumption.

He’s stereotyped this way for several reasons: his rebellious wardrobe, his propensity for arguing. The fact that he takes shop, and maybe isn’t traditionally “smart,” like his peers. He’s an outsider. Yet, he has extraordinary social intelligence.

In the movie, he does have some weed on his person– and he encourages everyone to smoke up in the library. That’s the scene where they finally relax and break their stoic silence, glued to their assigned seats. Because of this, they begin to get to know each other.

By the end, it’s understood these five strangers leave friends. And Bender and Claire have even become an item. So have Andrew and Allison. Brian is alone, but vindicated because he writes the group essay for all of them.

It might look like he got manipulated into doing everyone’s work– but it’s a small act of defiance on his part. He’s nominated to be the group conscience, because “You’re the smartest,” as Claire says. The group trusts him enough to speak for them all, and he accepts the responsibility. Otherwise socially awkward, by stepping up to this task, Brian ultimately earns the respect of the group.

He writes a powerful, concise essay to Mr. Vernon– one exposing the authority figure’s own vanity and prejudice. And it’s a masterpiece.

Ahh, I’m getting off track. I love tangents!

Back to Bender.

How many people consider Bender a “loser,” by the end of the movie?

Only the most stalwart prejudiced masses, who define him soley by his looks and current status in life.

Anyone who chooses to look deeper can see that although in high school he may be struggling, he has an independent mind, and his defiance can be harnessed toward success later in life.

Maybe John Bender is just a late bloomer.

Vernon abusively tells the group that if they visit Bender in five years, he’ll likely be in prison.

As we learn in the movie, Bender has had a very tough life at home. He shows Andrew a cigar burn from his father. He’s aggressive and he yells, because that’s what he’s learned from home.

Yet, he also has a tenderness about him. His self-confidence is low, after a life-time of being conditioned to believe he’s “nothing.” That he’s just lazy, not using his full potential. Not smart in traditional ways.

He does need to learn when to back down from an argument, rather than needing to “win.”

But as we see in his interactions with others– especially Claire, he also is sensitive and loyal. He creates a diversion for Vernon, after looking at Claire with longing. It’s clear that he wants to spare her from getting in trouble. Thus, he directs the blame onto himself. Truly, that’s an act of courage. And they’re not in a relationship– but he clearly has a crush on her. However, he has no idea how to talk to her, and mostly ends up insulting her. Yet, she figures him out.

She becomes a bit defiant herself, whereas previously she was always concerned about what others thought.

The last scene is of Bender, striding alone and raising a fist in triumph.

He’s impressed a woman with his intelligence and defiance.

He is a leader, not a follower. He has redeemed himself with his peers. He’s beginning to believe in himself.

I bet that in 15 years, Bender ended up a small-business owner.

Along the way he made a lot of mistakes, but he learned from them.

And we’re all left inspired by the lessons of his stumbles, raring to sound our own roar.

He’s not a loser. He just takes longer to figure things out– because he wants to do it his own way.

And really, that’s about self-pride.

That’s a winner.

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