Invasion of the Archetypes

Thursday’s lecture focused on character archetypes prevalent in teen films. From studying other film genres in the past, I’ve learnt that these archetypes are essentially the building blocks of a genre: they are the semantics of a genre, and through them we can learn more about the syntax of said genre. The teen movie character archetypes that were outlined in class are as follows:

– The Jock
– The Nerd
– The Popular Girl
– The Outcast/Delinquent
– The Rebel

The film that the professor used to demonstrate these archetypes was the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club”

An arrangement of archetypes

An arrangement of archetypes

Just looking at the poster, you can tell which character fits which archetype; the jock in his letter jacket, the rebel with his fingerless gloves and menacing pose, the milquetoast nerd with a morose look on his face, the outcast clad in black and curled up in an odd position, and the sultry popular girl lying out in front of them all.

While this sort of thing may seem obvious, it is very important when studying genre. Like I said before, these kinds of archetypes help to define a genre, and the reason they seem so obvious is that they appear really, REALLY frequently, as you will see in the film we watched on Thursday…

The Faculty (1998)
Dir. Robert Rodriguez
Starring Elijah Wood (Casey), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Clea Duvall (Stokely), Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Shawn Hatosy (Stan), Laura Harris (Marybeth)

“The Faculty” is, in a nutshell, “The Breakfast Club” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. A group of teens who all attend the same high school and normally don’t associate with one another find themselves surrounded by an alien menace that is taking over the bodies of the people at their school. This alien parasite starts with the faculty (hence the title), then begins assimilating their classmates, and it is up to our ragtag gang of heroes to save the day.

Similarly to “The Breakfast Club”, it is easy to see which character fits which archetype. (Captions are taken from Thursday’s lecture)

The Jock: sensitive, steeped in masculinity

The Jock: sensitive, steeped in masculinity

The Nerd: Change or perish

The Nerd: Change or perish

The Outcast: Lashes out against students and teachers

The Outcast: Lashes out against students and teachers

The Popular Girl: Need to fit in while simultaneously being an individual

The Popular Girl: Need to fit in while simultaneously being an individual

The Rebel: Refusal to conform, need to maintain individuality, and in the case of "The Breakfast Club" and "The Faculty, associated with drugs

The Rebel: Refusal to conform, need to maintain individuality, and in the case of "The Breakfast Club" and "The Faculty, associated with drugs

After watching “The Faculty”, I noticed another character archetype, although this one may not be as common as the others. The oppressive, angry teacher:

The Angry Teacher: Sees students as "young punks"

The Angry Teacher: Sees students as "young punks"

In both “The Breakfast Club” and “The Faculty” we are presented with a teacher (in the case of “The Faculty”, the first teacher to become infected with the alien parasite) who clearly has some anger issues. He sees the students as “young punks” and has several aggressive confrontations with them. It should be noted, however, that the teacher in “The Breakfast Club” does not turn into an alien the way the teachers in “The Faculty” do…

Rrrraaaaarrrgghh!!!

Rrrraaaaarrrgghh!!!

As well, “The Faculty” includes another character archetype – one which may or may not be as common as the other character archetypes in teen films (more research will be needed to determine this) – the new girl:

The New Girl: just trying to fit in...and turn everyone into alien slaves...

The New Girl: just trying to fit in...and turn everyone into alien slaves...

What is interesting about the character of Marybeth is that not only does she not fit in to the popular character archetypes that we discussed in class, but (SPOILER ALERT!) she turns out to be the villain in disguise. Watching “The Faculty” as an example of character archetypes in teen movies with the prior knowledge that Marybeth was the alien queen in disguise, it was easy to draw the connection: the one principal character who didn’t fit any of the archetypes we studied was the villain all along.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, these archetypes will be of great help in studying teen films as a genre, and while every archetype may not appear in every movie, there will always be one or more in any given film. In my last post I listed some of my favourite teen movies, so I thought it might be fun to list a few of them again and include sub-lists of the character archetypes present in these films.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

– Ferris is clearly the rebel, rebelling against authority, refusing to conform, and intent on maintaining his individuality
– His girlfriend Sloan could be the popular girl, but we’re never given much indication of what her social life is like at school
– His best friend Cameron is a sort of combination of the nerd and the outcast, though leaning more towards the nerd

“Back to the Future”

– Marty is the rebel, but not nearly as much of a delinquent as Judd Nelson’s character in “The Breakfast Club”. Marty does, however, rebel against authority, try to maintain his individuality and ride a skateboard (definitely indicative of rebellious behaviour)
– Biff is the other half of the rebel archetype: he’s aggressive and violent, the school bully
– George McFly is the nerd, as evidenced by his love of science fiction, his choice of drinks at the diner (“Gimme a milk…chocolate!”) and his general awkward, nerdy behaviour.

“Stand By Me”

– Gordie is the nerd, though this is only really evidenced by his passion for writing
– Vern is also a bit of a nerd, mainly because of his awkward behaviour
– Chris is the rebel, evidenced by his tough-guy attitude
– Teddy is both the rebel and the outcast: he’s tough and rebellious, but lashes out at other people and is generally unaccepted by society
– Ace is also a rebel, much closer to Bender from “The Breakfast Club”

I’m not as sure of my connections between characters and archetypes in”Stand By Me” as I am of the connections I’ve drawn in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Back to the Future”. I suspect this is largely because “Stand By Me” does not take place in a school.

(all images courtesy of http://www.infinitecoolness.com)

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~ by sosayeththewatcher on May 19, 2009.

One Response to “Invasion of the Archetypes”

  1. Sorry I didn’t comment on the fact that you had already addressed the teacher “role/stereotype” in your post – it’s a potentially interesting idea if the adult characters are as forced into established roles as the teens. What does the future hold for characters like those in the Faculty if that’s what awaits them?

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