13 Ways In Which Movies Break The Fourth Wall

1) Taking The Audience Along For The Ride: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the most obvious starting point for an exploration into the land outside the fourth wall. Not only is the movie a classic, but one of the main reasons for its popularity is precisely that Ferris (Matthew Broderick) talks directly to the audience, frequently and at length.

He begins at the point at which his duped parents have left him off school and “in bed” for the day, believing him to be ill. The bedroom door closes behind them, that harbinger of sickness that is the violin soundtrack cuts off – and Ferris sits bolt upright. He shoots a last glance towards the door, before turning directly to the camera and declaring triumphantly, “they bought it!”

Over the next few minutes, Ferris takes us through specific instructions on the fine art of faking an illness to an exact no-school-no-doctor level (clammy hands people, clammy hands), his reasons for avoiding school, and an impressive political monologue on not believing in “isms.” We even join him in the shower, although he has the decency to hold his hand over your eyes for some of this shot. This isn’t just ‘breaking’ the fourth wall: Ferris acts as though no such thing as a character/audience barrier ever existed in the first place.

This confidence directly reflects Bueller himself as a person. The boy has style, true, but he is also arrogant, egotistical, and sometimes slightly smarmy. But the whole point of his constant interaction with the audience is to invite them along for the epic jaunt that is going to be this titular day off. The fourth wall is always about some kind of audience engagement, but here, through Bueller’s power over the situation, we are not just meant to be entertained – we are also meant to be distracted, fooled, controlled. And as his poor friend Cameron knows, and his lovingly naïve mother eventually realises – it is irresistibly effective.

But ultimately, Bueller does actually have an important message. As he says at the beginning, and restates at the end, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

After the credits have rolled, Ferris appears one last time, out of his bedroom. He stands in front of the camera. “You’re still here?” he asks in disbelief. “It’s over…..go home.”

The unceremonious and almost disdainful way that we’re dismissed from Ferris’ life confirms the sense that actually, he’s not someone that we’d want to spend any more than one day with (which is a good job, because after Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick had a great many more days off – this time from his career). But it’s not important. Ferris gave us the kind of day that we will gladly either look forward to (if you’re younger), re-live (if you’re older), or compare to how well we’re enjoying our own lives right now – whatever your age.

Now, fake a stomach cramp, lick those palms – and go and take a look around at life, before you miss it.