Ferris Bueller’s Day off is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s fun, it’s iconic, and it’s well made. One thing that seperates this film from most modern films is the character arc structure. Ferris, our main protagonist, has a relatively flat character arc. His outlook on life is so powerfully cemented, instead of the world and the events of the film changing him, he changes the other characters which surround. The most central of these characters is Cameron. In this article, I will analyse the scene which marks the climax of Cameron’s character arc.
Instead of establishing the scene with a traditional wide shot, we start with several close-ups on the Ferrari, rigged up to drive in reverse to take off the miles. It is clearly not a professional set-up, and establishes the stakes for the scene. The hum of the engine is in the background for the entirety of the scene.
Switching to a wide shot, the Ferrari is centred in the frame, with our main cast to either side. Cameron has to face the car, symbolizing the anger he will face from his father if he’s caught.
In the following shots, Cameron is further isolated on the bench. We go through a series of medium shots as they talk about some of the events from before. Ferris and Sloan are concerned for Cameron. This is the calm before the storm, all the while the Ferrari’s engine hums in the background.
Concern starts as they realize the odometer isn’t ticking back. The framing switches to medium close-ups to show the concern on the character’s faces. The director continues to direct our attention with extreme close-ups on the car, honing in on the odometer, and the rigging of the car up on the pedastle.
The scene is focused on Cameron, and his change. Both Ferris and Sloan look at Cameron, while he looks at the car. He knows now there is not escaping his Dad finding out he touched the car. Years of frustration are building up in him, and he soon takes it out on the car. The look on his face here is the first of a series of centre framed shot on Cameron’s expression, as we see him change.
Continuing to intercut with extreme close-ups, the director keeps the tension extremely high as the audience realizes the impending doom of the vehicle far before the characters. Cameron damages the front end of the car beyond repair, and accepts his fate that his Dad will see everything. But he doesn’t realize what’s coming.
As the he pushes the Ferrari just beyond the tipping point, the horror returns to his face as it flies out from under his foot. We switch to a wider shot, of Cameron, furthering his feeling of isolation.
As his friends observe the damage below, they look back at Cameron, who looks like a little kid in big trouble. The size and cleanliness of the room adds to the effect, in combination with the wide framing. It takes a while for Cameron to come the window and look at what he’s done, further milking the suspense that has been so powerful throughout the scene. As Cameron sees the wreck, so does the audience.
As they look down on the Ferrari’s grave, the framing makes the character’s feel uneasy. We look down on them from below, and make them feel small. Ferris and Sloan are concerned for Cameron, while he fears his own fate. But now in this frame, his isolation is over, and he is standing with his friends.
Knowing how distraught his friend is, Ferris offers to take the heat for Cameron. This shot is in rule of thirds. This is Cameron’s defining moment, and we switch to a centre-framed close-up to his face as he decides to take his father’s wrath himself. Its here Cameron changes, and truly comes into his own. The close-up used is perfect for displaying the change in emotion.
Not only is the script well done here to complete Cameron’s character arc, but all the cinematography choices play an integral role to the scene. From using extreme close-ups to build tension, framing and blocking to create isolation, and well timed use of centre framing and close-ups to display emotion, this scene has it all.