This Is Why Principal Vernon Is the True Hero of 'The Breakfast Club'


As a kid watching The Breakfast Club for the first time, I always hated Principal Vernon (played brilliantly by the late, great Paul Gleason). I thought he was such a prick. Everyone did. He embodied everything everyone hates in a teacher, no matter what decade you were born in. In my young and impressionable mind, he was the biggest dbag that ever dbagged in dbag history.

Now, as an adult, I realize I was wrong. 100% wrong. Principal Vernon was not the bad guy in The Breakfast Club. He was not the antagonist.

He was the hero.

And as a hero, he must be acknowledged for his greatness.

As much as we all admire or relate to Claire, Allison, Brian, Andrew and Bender, it's Principal Vernon who really is the catalyst for all the changes that occur throughout the day. (Cue the David Bowie.) He really doesn't get the credit he deserves, despite the fact that he sets in motion the events on a day that is probably the most important day of those teenagers' lives. (And for those who think that is an exaggeration, I say that it is not exaggerated enough.) 

Think about this: The man came in on a Saturday. What grown up wants to come in to work on a Saturday? Vernon didn't want to be there any more than the kids did. He's not the one who did anything wrong, yet there he is, dutifully babysitting them, bored out of his skull creating works of art out of pencils and a Styrofoam cup. The kids were the ones who screwed up, and because of them, he has to be there on his day off. You know what I call that? Selflessness, that's what. 

Vernon didn't make Bender pull the fire alarm. He didn't force Andrew to tape that geek's butt cheeks together. He didn't coerce Claire to cut class. He didn't demand Brian bring a flare gun to school. They all did that on their own. And he certainly didn't make Allison, who wasn't even in trouble but "didn't have anything better to do today," come spend a day at school when she didn't have to. They did all that on their own. Vernon is just there doing his job.

And what if Principal Vernon didn't give them a Saturday suspension? What if he just gave them an in-school suspension? Or what if he just gave all of the kids a verbal warning and sent them on their merry way? Well, then those five kids would have never met, would have never connected and would have never achieved a deeper understanding of each other and, more importantly, of themselves.

But does Principal Vernon get any credit for that? Does he get any props for changing the lives of five troubled teens? No. All he is met with are insults, derision and a complete and utter lack of respect. That's not how you treat an American hero.

Now, that's not to say that Principal Vernon is not without his faults. Every great hero has faults; that's what makes them so great. Vernon has his problems. For one thing, he likes to point...

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A lot...

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Like, all the time...

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Pointing is annoying and if I were friends with Principal Vernon in 1985 I would have taken him out for a Bartles & Jaymes Premium Peach Flavored Wine Cooler and said to him, "Hey, Vern, my man? Ease up on the pointing. I get it's your thing, but it's a tad on the rude side. Remember, when you point a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing right back at you."

But, other than that, the man is flawless.

A big plot point in the movie is that Principal Vernon wants each teen to write an essay about "who they think they are," and how all five of them think it's a bunch of B.S. and no one wants to write it. Of course, after spending a full day of fighting, crying, dancing, laughing and loving together, the kids agree that Brian will write the essay and speak for all of them. And what he writes is the centerpiece for the entire film. It is brilliantly written and speaks volumes about what it means to be a teenager dealing with the problems teenagers face as they try to make sense of their fragile world and how they fit into it. And that's all because of Vernon, not in spite of him.

In fact, I would go so far as to hypothesize that that is what Vernon wanted all along. He wanted those kids to have a greater understanding of themselves and the people around him. That was the whole point of that Saturday detention in the first place. He wasn't punishing...he was helping. Bravo, Vernon, bravo.

Without Vernon, there is no Breakfast Club. Plain and simple. He's the one that brings the kids together. There is no understanding, mutual respect and even love without Principal Richard (not Dick, be respectful) Vernon. By forcing them together for an entire day, Vernon made them think and, more importantly, made them feel.

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Vernon suffers for his students.

People love to quote Principal Vernon's immortal line, "Mess with the bull, son, you'll get the horn." It's a fun thing to say, especially when used with the classic Vernon hand gesture. But really, the quote that means the most, the thing that Vernon says that really holds the most water, is this:

"You ought to spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people."

Let's see Principal Rooney come up with a gem like that.

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