Howard Roark, Ferris Bueller

There’s a common plot structure that I’ve noticed in two very different works.

In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Howard Roark appears essentially fully-formed at the start of the book. He knows who he is. He knows what he wants to do. This is not to say that he doesn’t undergo trials and ordeals from which he eventually emerges triumphant. But throughout it all, his character never changes. His belief in himself never waivers, despite everything that tests it.

It would be incorrect to say that Dominique Francon is the central character in the book, but in some sense she may be the most significant. Though she does so very much in Roark’s orbit, she undergoes a deep, spiritual transformation. Starting with an attempt at nihilism born of her fear of being vulnerable to other people, she then attempts to accept the corrupt morality of others, and finally – learning from Roark – finds the courage and self-acceptance that allow her to follow her own path and make her own moral judgements.

It would likewise be incorrect to describe Cameron as the central character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris is very much in the driving seat, both literally and figuratively. But again, whereas Ferris starts the day with a clear plan and all the inner resources that he needs to execute it, it is Cameron who has to undergo a transformation to gain his own agency and take responsibility for the course of his life.

At the end of the film, Sloane says to Ferris, “you knew what you were doing when you woke up this morning.” And that is Ferris in a nutshell. His incorrigibility is one of his most remarkable features. He doesn’t experience character development. But by embodying a deep sense of agency, he causes the people around him to gain a glimpse of it too.