Narrative Structure Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Analysis of the narrative structure in the opening sequence.
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Narrative Structure Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Over the top of this frame, there is narration from a radio host saying “It is a beautiful day in
Chicago today”. This is the first stage of Todorov’s equilibrium theory- equilibrium. It
describes a normal day in Chicago. This sets some of the context in the film, because we
know that it is set in Chicago, America, and we know that the location of the film will
influence the narrative that takes place.
Over the top of this establishing shot, we hear a female voice call “What’s
wrong? For Christ sake, look at him, Honey!”. This suggests there is a
disruption to the equilibrium, because it suggests there is an issue with Ferris.
This means the film is in the second phase of Todorov’s theory.
The establishing shot provides some context for the audience about the film.
The mis en scene suggests that it is set in a house, where the family is fairly
wealthy. So, from this we can assume the people talking are parents, and Ferris
is a child. This shot is also an example of Bathes’ Referential Code. It shows
the lifestyle of a typical, wealthy, American family.
This is the first character we see in the film, so we understand he is very
important to the film. Also, we hear diagetic sound from who we can assume
are his parents, who call “Ferris” 4 times up to this shot. So we quickly learn
that he is in fact Ferris. Because the title of the film is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
so we can recognise him to be the protagonist.
This shot exercises Barthes “Semantic” code. Ferris appears to be ill but his
intentions are to fool his parents so he doesn’t have to go to school.
The low angle shot enables us to see the worried facial expression the parents
have. It shows us how gullible and ignorant they are, which is one of the reasons
Ferris is allowed to take a day off of school. For this reason they could be seen as
the “Helper” in Propp’s theory of characters.
Here, is the introduction to a new character, Jeanie. These are two examples of
Barthes’ Action Codes. The first, Jeanie is tapping her foot, the second, her fingers
tapping her waist. These suggest she is going to interupt because she is irritated and
This also suggests
that her character is
hot-headed. It is
important for films to
be able to portray
the different types of
so the audience are
Jeanie represents the “Villian” character type in Propp’s theory, because she is
actively trying to block Ferris’ wish to spend the day off. We know this because
she tells their parents that Ferris is lying about being ill. “Yeah right. Dry that one
out, you can fertillise the lawn”.
Their relationship also exercises Levi-Strauss’ idea of binary opposites- brother
vs. sister, boy vs. girl and good vs. evil. The opposites help create an interesting
narrative. For example, in this film, Jeanie later tries to catch Ferris out so he
gets in trouble, and we see how Ferris is able to avoid it.
We see Ferris tormenting Jeanie, which shows and heightens the binary
opposites they have. It also exercises the “Enigma” code, making the audience
question why he actually wants the day off of school. This shows that his
character is quite clever and cheeky, which allows the audience to believe that
the rather unrealistic narrative could be real.
Here, Ferris talks directly to the audience. He says “They bought it”. It suggests
that he will repeatedly talk to the audience, telling us his thoughts and feelings,
and saying things he wouldn’t necessarily say to other characters. It gives us an
insight to the narrative from his perspective.