Ferris Bueller’s Day Off doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would lend itself to much deconstruction. It’s pretty straightforward — a wildly charismatic high school senior fakes sick so he can spend the day in downtown Chicago, painting the town red with his stunning girlfriend and sad-sack best friend.
The film’s larger message isn’t hidden at all. It’s delivered explicitly, by the main character, directly into the camera:
Ah, the fleeting nature of youth.
And yet, movie fans love to theorize about the film’s hidden truths. There’s a popular fan theory that Ferris (Matthew Broderick) doesn’t exist. Rather, he’s a figment of Cameron Frye’s imagination — an alter ego Cameron (Alan Ruck) invents to help him overcome his crippling anxiety and insecurity. The so-called “Fight Club theory” of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is fun to entertain, but few take it seriously.
There’s also a lot of speculation about why Cameron — a resident of suburban Chicago, an intensely proud city, whose residents have a grating inferiority complex and a corresponding amount of disdain for fans of opposing sports teams — would spend a day in downtown Chicago wearing a Detroit Red Wings sweater. As I unearthed last summer, the answer is that writer-director John Hughes had Cameron wear a Gordie Howe jersey to reinforce Cameron’s status as an outsider. Cameron doesn’t want to conform. If anything, he wants to actively separate himself from everyone else, so he wears a jersey for one of the city’s most hated rivals.
But there’s another, arguably even larger mystery to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a mystery that’s easy to miss, but is so obvious in retrospect that you’ll be amazed you never bothered to consider it before: How old is Ferris’s sister, Jeanie?
You might remember Jeanie (Jennifer Grey, of Dirty Dancing fame) as Ferris’s angsty sister, who spends the majority of the movie trying to foil Ferris’s fake-sick scheme, only to have her plot backfire and end up making out with some random punk rock bro (played by a pre-Charlie Sheen Charlie Sheen) in the lobby of the local police department. With just a few words, Sheen’s character is able to completely shatter Jeanie’s pre-existing worldview and imbue her with the lightheartedness she abhors in her brother.
Jeanie’s purpose is to give the film some dramatic tension and act as the spiritual opposite to Ferris. But there’s an important aspect to their sibling rivalry that’s never addressed.
Is she Ferris’s older sister?
His younger sister?
Neither. The only logical answer is that they’re twins.
There’s a little speculation on this topic online, but not nearly as much as there is about the Fight Club fan theory. On Reddit, some claim Jeanie is the younger Bueller. But then why would she have her own car, while Ferris is forced to “borrow” Cameron’s father’s 1961 Ferrari 250GT California? Logic would dictate the Bueller parents would give a car to the older child before the younger one, so this theory doesn’t hold much water.
Then again, Ferris isn’t the most responsible young man, so perhaps he did have a car and totaled it before the events of the movie began. But if that were the case, the neurotic Cameron would’ve mentioned Ferris’s spotty driving record when Ferris asked to drive the Ferrari. So again, the “Jeanie is younger” theory falls apart after a little inspection.
Yet Jeanie can’t be older than Ferris, either (despite what some fans of the movie believe). Ferris is a senior — it’s mentioned several times in the film that he and Cameron are a month away from graduation — so if Jeanie were older she would be in college. If that were the case, why would she be hanging around her hometown, concerning herself with whether her little brother goes to class? It makes no sense.
It’s also made very clear that she attends the same school as Ferris, and that she’s an exceptional student, so it’s not like she got held back a year.
By this logic, we must conclude that she and Ferris are twins.
I wish I could take credit for this discovery, but that honor belongs to MEL reader Chris Ahern, who, to go by his email address, earns his living as a finance executive at Rafferty Capital Markets in New York. But in his spare time, he’s an amateur Ferris Bueller sleuth, and he explains his position thusly:
“We know Ferris is a senior. He mentions, ‘We’ll [he and Cameron] graduate soon and Sloane has another year of high school.’ We also know Jeanie goes to the same school as Ferris, as evidenced by her being at the school all day. She acts older than Ferris (I agree), but she can’t be older and still in high school — he’s a senior! Also we know she previously got a car for her birthday so she can’t really be younger than him.
Twins is the only answer. Thanks for reading the rumblings of a weirdo.”
And what a fabulous weirdo you are, Chris. Thank you for your contribution.
If you needed any further proof, the original shooting script for the film says both Ferris and Jeanie are 18 years old, although Jeanie is listed as his older sister. So they’re twins, but Ferris is still the annoying younger brother.