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Looking Back at "St. Elmo's Fire"

Updated on July 9, 2011

From a sociological perspective, it’s interesting to take a snapshot look of at a pivotal point in any generation. Case in point, the decade-defining yuppie culture of the mid-1980s. A quintessential film in the “brat pack” legacy, “St. Elmo’s Fire” is a look into a period of time where young adults had command over their destinies yet not mature enough to grasp it. They made mistakes over love, greed, and addiction. They strived for fame, fortune, and the happy life of the American Dream.
In 1985, seven close friends graduate from Georgetown University. Alec Newbury (Judd Nelson) is an aspiring Democratic political aide who finds prosperity working for a Republican senator. His girlfriend Leslie (Ally Sheedy) wants to be an architect but finds herself settling down with Alec but starts having doubts in the relationship, suspecting Alec of cheating on her. Andrew McCarthy is Kevin, an inspiring writer (and secretly in love with Leslie) who resorts to writing newspaper obituaries. Kevin’s roommate Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is a waiter at St. Elmo’s Bar with hopes of becoming a lawyer and wooing his dream girl Dale Biberman (Andie MacDowell), a hospital intern who went on one date with Kirby in college. Rob Lowe plays Billy Hicks, the directionless frat boy who is separated from his wife and the estranged father of an infant. Mare Winningham is Wendy, the shy virgin who comes from a wealthy family and is in love with Billy. Demi Moore is Jules Van Patten, the wild party girl of the group (and Leslie’s former roommate) whose consumerism and drug consumption drives her into debt. Relationships inter-cross and friendships are questioned, all within six months of the seven friends graduating college. Drama ensues in these characters’ lives where their future is unwritten.

Yet, at certain moments, hope brings out the best in these characters. Kirby, who wishes for a life with Dale, is satisfied with just an impromptu moment kiss with her. Kevin has a passionate night with Leslie after she learns of Alec’s infidelity but is reluctant to rush into a relationship with Kevin. As Alec tries to win her back, the frustrated Leslie “just wishes everything like it used to be, all of us friends.” She ultimately decides to be with neither Alec or Kevin. The group comes full circle as they accept their fate as Billy heads to New York City to make it as a saxophone player. The gang retreats to their favorite spot in St. Elmo’s but see it overtaken by a new group of younger undergraduates. This marks a point in time where they are no longer care-free college students but now young adults with responsibilities. An important moment for both the characters and the audience at the time.
Twenty six years later, the film may seem dated for young audiences but the characters and the message are universal. Like the “brat pack” companion piece “The Breakfast Club,” young adults are facing adulthood for the first time and learn to cope with with the crappy reality of family, friends, and making a mark in their careers. This film created break-out rolls for many of the actors, particularly Demi Moore whose career outlasted her co-stars (with exception to Rob Lowe, who made a comeback in TV with “The West Wing” and “Parks and Recreation”). “St. Elmo’s Fire” marked director Joel Schumacher’s first hit film and remains a landmark movie of the 80s yuppie generation.

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