Specialisation: Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory

Movie Analysis: The Breakfast Club (1985)


Breakfast Club is an American independent teen comedy-drama from 1985. However, John, a rebel, disregards authority, causing further detentions. During their time together, they reveal their struggles: Peer pressure and difficulties with parents for Claire; child mistreatment by the father in the case of John; difficulties with meeting parents’ expectations for Andrew; contemplating suicide because of academic problems experienced by Brian; and Allison the compulsive liar who does not have attentive parents (The Breakfast Club (1985) – Movie Review / Film Essay, 1985) However, they find themselves in strange and unexpected alliances discovering that society’s notions of who they were supposed to be are no longer applicable to them. Claire transforms the looks for Allison and ignites romantic feelings in Andrew’s heart, while John defies Claire’s image and kisses her. As detention concludes, they compose an essay asserting their individuality: “each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”

John Bender’s Character Analysis through Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

Using Piaget’s cognitive development theory, Judd Nelson, who plays John Bender in The Breakfast Club (1985), can be analyzed. This psychological theory formulated by Jean Piaget investigates different stages of growth in childhood and late teens (The Breakfast Club Film by John Hughes – 284 Words | Movie Review Example, n.d.). At the heart of Piaget’s theory is how individuals develop knowledge about the world. This study allows us to understand how Bender’s mind works and how he observes and relates to the world.

According to Piaget’s theory, symbolic thinking starts at the age of 2-7 and is characteristic of a period called “the pre-operational” stage. However, they may have challenges in developing a logical thought process. John Bender exhibits egocentricity through his hostile and rebellious conduct. His defiance of Bender shows an egoistical character who does not think about consequences but only follows his aims.

During this concrete period, between the ages of 7 and 11, children think concretely as they see things happening. At this point, two sets of capabilities of conservation and operation are founded (The Breakfast Club Film by John Hughes – 284 Words | Movie Review Example, n.d.). However, John Bender’s character does not progress seamlessly into the third phase. For example, his conflicts and multiple rebellions point to a possible continuance of refusal to accept social stipulations and meet expected standards. Concretively, in the operational stage, people often have extra capacity to think from different perspectives, except for Bender, whose position of mind is already set.

As the film progresses, it becomes evident that Bender’s cognitive improvement may be hindered by external factors, including his tumultuous home lifestyle. Piaget’s idea recognizes the impact of surroundings on cognitive development, and Bender’s exposure to abuse and neglect probably performs a function in shaping his rebellious and protective demeanor (The Breakfast Club Film by John Hughes – 284 Words | Movie Review Example, n.d.). Furthermore, Bender’s interactions with his friends during the detention display some aspects of the formal operational degree (ages eleven and older), where individuals can think abstractly and reason hypothetically. The emotional bonding and sharing of the group’s struggles imply abstract thinking, showcasing that Bender can form meaningful connections and understand complex feelings regardless of his rebellious nature.

Analysis of John Bender using Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory

John Bender, portrayed by Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, is a compelling issue for analysis through Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory. The idea posits that individuals develop through degrees of psychosocial development, with each stage marked by a specific crisis that desires decisions for healthful development (Movie Analysis the Breakfast Club %281985%29 Videos Youtube – Google Search, n.d.). John Bender’s character and the adolescent stage are described as a conflict of identity versus role confusion.

For its part, the character of “Benders,” is the rebellious “criminal” archetype who breaks authority and social norms. The case study shows that troubled teens seeking their own identity ask themselves the question: “Who am I?” Bender is a young man under hard circumstances, a failed family, and difficult living, thus, he struggles in finding his identity through a tough time.

While in detention with Bender, his rebellion against Vice-Principal Vernon illustrates his search for a personal identity. As a result, he interprets antagonism as an opportunity for self-assertion and self-identification in a world devoid of support (Movie Analysis the Breakfast Club %281985%29 Videos Youtube – Google Search, n.d.). According to Erikson, overcoming this stage means an individual acquires a healthy self-identity. Anders’ acts of rebellion indicate that he wanted to differentiate himself from the existing social standards.

The complex mental state is also shown in how Benders interacted with their peers. Erikson’s principle concerns the significance of relationships for identification development. The more he speaks of his violent father and unforgiving family situation, one would notice that the rough external attitude protects him from emotional damage in the family.

Therefore, without resolving Mr. Vernon’s quandary of identity, he might become stubborn toward societal roles played by normative or benders. According to Eriksen, these children have a stable sense of self and become capable of committing to connections. Nonetheless, during his turmoil, he makes new friends and discovers himself.

Comparing and Contrasting Erikson and Piaget in John Bender’s Journey

Erikson and Piaget highlight personal growth by comparing and contrasting those theories. Erikson studies psychosocial issues such as identity growth, while Piaget addresses cognitive directions and moral sense-making. In the case of Bender, his rebellious behavior illustrates the desire for definition and capability of challenging social norms.

According to Erikson’s theory, successful movement through the identity vs. role confusion stage leads to a healthy self-definition. His rebellion and affiliation with the group reveal identification issues. Therefore, his theory is strengthened by Piaget’s idea that explores how cognitive power enables Bender to understand their perceptions with those of other people.

On the other hand, an evaluation such as the personalism in Erikson’s theory can be considered that does not fit into the collective-centeredness of Piaget’s paradigm. In his adventure, Bender goes through the process of individualism to form a collective with the others in detention. Erikson places more emphasis on internal struggles, while for Piaget, there are external interactions and moral considerations.

Critical Developmental Issue Faced by John Bender in “The Breakfast Club”

In “The Breakfast Club,” Judd Nelson is depicted as representing an anti-social archetype of a rebel. As far as researching his personality from a developmental viewpoint, there is an issue that sticks in my mind, which concerns the effect caused by the parents’ abuse towards him psychologically and behavior-wise. Scenes depicting the subtle impact of Bender’s broken courtship with his father are shown subtly throughout the film, creating a sense of his emotional wounds from abuse.

Indeed, in one tragic scene, Bender’s dad beat up and physically harmed him. Point He rolls up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a burning wound on his arm – it still hurts him because of what happened at home. In this context, Bender’s hard times in family life are revealed through this scene (Harris, 2020). Adolescents are in this phase where they identify themselves, form their identity, and organize their feelings of self. This type, however, becomes more complicated because Bender enjoys abuse, which is why it defines the way he perceives himself while influencing his relations with other people.

It is quite a serious problem that deeply rooted in parental abuses, which were not only emotional but also emotional ones were suffered by John Bender. His father’s abuse also leaves a long track of tears into the heart of his intimate relationship with other people (Harris, 2020). Essential principles of developmental psychology have observed that family relationships have an influence on the mental development of the child at some point in adolescence or childhood.

These experiences are seen through the lens of the relationship between Bender and the others with whom he is incarcerated. Partially, the character’s shielding, as well as his confrontational posture, can be seen as a way of managing the trauma that is encountered at home during the review process. Bender’s behavior might be seen as a result of adaptation to the harm inflicted on his surroundings.

Resolution of the Issue

At the end of the movie, the critical developmental issue faced by John Bender is not always totally solved. Though the detention shows connections and comprehension between different characters, it does not just dissolve John’s long-running turmoil with his family (Ebert, 1985). In this case, the movie shows the complexity of John’s situation, though it does not give any final word on the troubled relationship between John and his father. However, in the film’s final scenes, when the characters part approach after detention, no changes to John’s family dynamics or demonstrating his immediate healing from the abuse is witnessed.

Therefore, it is an unfinished story, reminding us that real-life problems, particularly those originating from one’s family and experiences with domestic violence, do not conveniently disappear within a short period. The film appreciates these limits of its narrative frame, depicting the characters’ new understanding of each other’s struggles without comprehensively outlining the external difficulties within the school context. John’s case shows how difficult it is to deal with inherited problems of domestic maltreatment. It explains that this problem must be treated thoroughly for a long time, exceeding the movie’s storyline.


Ebert, R. (1985, February 15). The Breakfast Club movie review (1985) | Roger Ebert. Rogerebert.com; RogerEbert.com. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-breakfast-club-1985

‌Harris, A. S. (2020, May 16). Movie Review – The Breakfast Club. PopCult Reviews. https://popcult.blog/2020/05/16/movie-review-the-breakfast-club/

Movie Analysis the Breakfast Club %281985%29 Videos Youtube – Google Search. (n.d.). Www.google.com. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://www.google.com/search?q=movie+analysis+the+breakfast+club+%281985%29+videos+youtube&sca_esv=588873340&sxsrf=AM9HkKkX7a


The Breakfast Club (1985) – Movie Review / Film Essay. (1985, February 15). Gone with the Twins. https://gonewiththetwins.com/new/breakfast-club-1985/

The Breakfast Club Film by John Hughes – 284 Words | Movie Review Example. (n.d.). IvyPanda. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-breakfast-club-film-by-john-hughes/