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Motion pictures provide a lot of material for the theory of interpersonal communication because they reflect the real world and various true-to-life situations. In this regard, The Breakfast Club (1985) presents a fruitful environment for investigation. Teenage world depicted in it offers numerous combinations for observation of various communicative components.
Relational development presented by Knapp’s model finds little manifestation in the film. Some kind of bonding is disclosed between Andrew and Allison from the very beginning. At the end of the film they are already a formed couple, but the development of their relationships is not shown. It can be explained by the fact that there are small chances for intimacy within the closed group of detainees, and as the action of the film lasts for one day only, it is difficult to follow the progress of the relationships.
According to Adler, Rodman and Hutchinson, self-disclosure is sharing information of a personal kind which is generally not made public. Effective self-disclosure is always intentional, gradual, dependent on the culture affiliation of the person and more likely to occur in small groups, which makes it a rather rare communication phenomenon simultaneously increasing its value. In the movie it is revealed during the talk about relationships with parents. It can also be traced when Andrew shares his concerns about everybody treating him as a winner with Allison or when the girl informs him about serious issues with parents who ignore her. If in the first case self-disclosure is massive, in the second one it seems to be more efficient because it contains the dyads condition. Another example of effective self-disclosure is the cathartic confession of Andrew about the causes of his detention. When he shared this with his new friends, it became easier for them to do the same.
As it often happens in real life, the movie provides more examples of disconfirming responses. For instance, Allison is reserved and reveals any interest in discussion on extremely rare occasions; when it happens, she expresses herself rather in gestures than words and manages to attract everybody’s attention with it. The weird girl tries to finish the conversation as soon as possible when Andrew discounts her runaway plans. Thus, she is the most potent source of disconfirming responses in the film. John resorts to degrading when he makes fun of Brian’s being a good boy. Confirming responses take place when Claire suggests there is nothing wrong with being a virgin for a boy after Brian’s confession. Recognition and acknowledgement emerge only after the students smoke some marijuana. Notably, it acts as a powerful bonding factor for detainees, and further communication does not demand stimulating substances.
The movie reveals a lot of conflicts within the group, but the most obvious one unfolds between John and Andrew. They present a classic male rivalry: the roots of their disagreement are connected with claims for Clair; young men indirectly try to win her affection. The aggression they express is, however, rather direct: boys call each other names and criticize the lifestyles of each other.
The division of the informal roles in The Breakfast Club is rather uneven because not every personage is manifested clearly in this regard. John, for instance, is an obvious energizer; he needs some action and encourages it. Brian is a careful information giver: he constantly reminds about the detention rules and does not want to get in trouble for their breach. However, when the conflict between John and Andrew almost becomes physical (during the talk about parents), he acts tries to reduce tension. Clair is so overwhelmed by wasting her Saturday that she constantly complains, which makes her a feeling expresser. In the group context, Andrew and Allison stay rather passive: while the former manifests himself vividly only as a part of leading the conflict with John, the latter plays the role of the aloof deserter.
Cohesion of the group of five high school students is clear. Only detention can unite such different personages; it makes a case of a shared group experience. One of the definite manifestations of cohesiveness in the movie is in the way the students cover for each other. Making decisions is difficult for the students because they are so different and everyone has one’s own opinion. In terms of power allocation, in The Breakfast Club one can observe an authority rule exercised by the active John: the other four have strong doubts about the escape but still docilely participate in it. He is a fearless informal leader, and the legitimate authority is held by the detention instructor. John’s inclinations are explained by his rebellious character. Andrew, however, tries to exercise his leader’s qualities in order to keep his image of a sportsman and winner. With the development of action in the film power levers change: the schoolchildren understand that despite the seeming differences they are very similar. This crucial insight revealed by the film is supported by the new power allocation: at the end of the movie every detainee has an equal amount of authority.
Group discussion can be subjected to some dangers. They include a surplus or a lack of information, implanted viewpoints of the authority or the majority and unequal amounts of participations of the members of the group. In the film the emergence of these dangers can be explained by the specific features of the personages. For instance, due to her weirdness Allison becomes a kind of an outsider for the detention group. When the others try to figure out how to deal with the situation, she offers no solutions and most of the time just sits quietly and smiles ironically. However, her behavior is only a minor issue compared to the pressure of the mass when John initiates the escape. Paradoxically, it only establishes more friendly relations among the five schoolchildren. With not much discussion taking place, this danger is overcome by itself.
The Breakfast Club is a movie presenting an artificially formed group of teenagers who are bonded by the same circumstances. Self-disclosure, role and power allocation and conforming responses are the most often used communicative components in the film, though cohesion, discussion and problem-solving issues are also addressed to.