Social class is incredibly important to Cher, and for this reason is a major theme in the film. From the start, Cher is depicted as a character with a huge amount of wealth and privilege. She has giant closets filled with designer clothes, lives in a mansion, and has a fancy car just for learning to drive. The film both satirizes and glamorizes Cher's privilege. She is depicted as blissfully unaware of how spoiled she is, yet she is also the film's lovable protagonist.
Class is tied to popularity at the high school. When Tai expresses an interest in Travis, a "grungy" skateboarder, and Cher attempts to steer her towards rich, popular snob Elton. Cher's aim is to raise Tai's social status by pairing her with a wealthy classmate. Status is firmly tied to one's social circle and also to one's outward appearance, which is why Cher maintains such a seemingly superficial opinion of others. In order for Tai to become more popular, Cher must give her a makeover so that she appears to belong with the high school's social elite.
Love is a major theme in the film and many of the subplots revolve around romance. We are given evidence of Cher's gift for clever manipulation when she matchmakes two lonely teachers in order to raise her grades. With just a few suggestive comments, a love note with Shakespeare, and the encouragement to share coffee, Cher sows the seeds of love between the teachers. When Cher meets Christian, she thinks she is in love with him, and trusts him enough that she wants to have sex with him for the first time, a plan which is comically thrown off course by Christian's apparent homosexuality. Additionally, she tries to set Tai up with Elton, but Elton only has eyes for her. In the end, the answer to all of Cher's problems is the recognition that she is in love with her ex-stepbrother, Josh. Having completely blocked the possibility of romance with him, it is only when Tai expresses an interest in Josh that Cher is able to see her own affection. At the end of the film, all of the characters are neatly in relationships and happily in love, attending the wedding of the teachers that Cher paired together. Love is perhaps the driving force of the film and a fundamental theme in its plot.
Presentation & Outward Appearance
As the viewer can see from the start of the film, Cher is invested in presentation and appearances, above almost anything else. When we first see her at home, she goes through a giant closet of designer clothes, and even has a computer program that helps her match different parts of an outfit. When her father confronts her about a revealing dress she is wearing, asking "what is that?!" Cher responds with the brand name, Calvin Klein. Even when held at gunpoint and told to drop to the ground by a mugger, Cher does not want to, because as she says, "You don't understand—this is an Alaia!" A running gag is that Cher is constantly interrupting more important matters to go shopping, as when she is going for a walk to clear her head after fighting with Tai, and sees an item in a store window. One of the primary themes of the film is Cher's fixation on presentation and appearance, her belief that appearance indicates a person's identity and social status.
Giving Back and Doing Good
When Cher decide to fight for better grades, she determines that the best way to do so is to help two lonely teachers—Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist—fall in love. When that plan works out, and she sees the happiness that she created between the couple, she is motivated to do more good deeds. She gives frumpy new girl Tai Frasier a makeover and tries to set her up with popular boy Elton, to disastrous results. Cher's plans are botched because while she believes she is doing good, she is actually not doing what is best for all parties involved.
In contrast to Cher and her superficial social campaign is Josh, her ex-stepbrother, who is a bleeding-heart liberal, planting trees with Marky Mark and dreaming of becoming an environmental lawyer. While Cher initially rolls her eyes at Josh's idealism, when she realizes that she is in love with him, she wants to prove that she is a do-gooder too, and volunteers to head the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief efforts at her school. When she worries that she is not a compassionate or helpful enough kind of person, her father assures her that she is the most helpful person in their household. While the film often satirizes the naivety of Cher's helping spirit—as when she seeks to donate skis to victims of a natural disaster—it is a major theme of the film.
Negotiation & Control
When Cher gets a bad grade in debate, she seeks to argue her way to a better one with her teacher, Mr. Hall. While the idealistic Josh rolls his eyes at Cher's entitlement, she is rewarded for her fighting spirit by her hard-nosed lawyer father. In a moment of comic suspension, Mr. Horowitz looks at Cher's grades in disbelief, and when it seems as though he is going to scold her for the manipulative measures she took, he says, "Honey, I couldn't be happier than if they were based on real grades." In the Horowitz household, the ability to negotiate is a sign of intelligence and competence.
Similarly, control is very important to Cher. When she wants to give Tai a makeover, Dionne explains, "Cher’s main thrill in life is a makeover. It gives her a sense of control in a world full of chaos." In taking control of Tai's look, Cher feels like she has control over her environment and the people in her life. While Cher learns later on that taking control of others doesn't always end well, her desire to argue her way to influence is one of her defining characteristics and an organizing theme.
Tai is shocked to discover that Cher is still a virgin. Dionne corrects her, calling it "hymenally challenged," and Cher explains that she is not a prude, just picky, comparing the choice of a suitable mate to picking out new shoes. While Cher is more worldly and sophisticated than Tai, when it comes to sex, she is much more innocent. Cher's virginity becomes a way that she feels more and more alienated from her social circle. After Dionne has the scary experience on the freeway, she loses her virginity to Murray, and Tai and Dionne begin to share a special bond over their knowledge of sex, which makes Cher feel left out. Cher's lack of sexual experience leaves her feeling vulnerable. When Cher doesn't encourage Tai to pursue Josh, Tai lashes out and goes for Cher's weakness: "You're a virgin who can't drive!"
Driving & Responsibility
Another area in which Cher is inexperienced is driving. Throughout the film, Cher is seen learning to drive and struggling to do so well. While Cher thinks of herself as a sophisticated adult, buying chic designer clothes and keeping tabs on her father's health, she can barely drive on the correct side of the road and has many struggles behind the wheel. Cher's horrible driving is a running joke throughout the film; in the first ten minutes she completely obliterates a potted plant, and later when she takes her driving test, she nearly hits a bicyclist and takes off the side-view mirror of a nearby car. Dionne is also a horrible driver, going into a panic when she accidentally merges onto the freeway. Driving is a comedic plot point throughout, but it also serves as a major theme. While Cher takes control of a number of situations, she struggles to manage adult responsibilities like driving a car.
Clueless Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Clueless is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The Clueless study guide contains a biography of director Amy Heckerling, quiz questions, major themes, character descriptions, and a full summary and analysis. The movie Clueless is an adaption of the book Emma by Jane Austen and provides a modern update on the social matchmaking of the lead character, Emma (Cher).
Clueless literature essays are academic essays about the movie Clueless provided for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling and adapted from Jane Austen's Emma.