Dead Poet's Society           


Dead Poet's Society, directed by Peter Weir, is the story of an inspirational and slightly radical teacher who affects the lives of the students at an extremely conservative prep school.  John Keating, English teacher and former student of Welton Academy, brings to the school a pioneering spirit, innovative teaching methods, and above all, a message for the students to think for oneself.  The film follows the life of a group of sixteen year olds who take Keating's message to heart and with his encouragement, come together to form the Dead Poet's Society.  All of these students are similar yet so different in character, and as a result, each boy reacts in a unique way to Keating's teachings.  Keating's message is directed at uncertain and impressionable prep school boys, so Charlie and Cameron, whose convictions at the beginning are already set, change but little throughout the film.  

            Charlie and Cameron have two vastly different personalities.  In the film, the fact that they are roommates highlights the chasm between them yet also shows how in the end, they have several similarities.  To understand their differences in character and conviction, one might consider them on a spectrum from most radical to most conservative.  Charlie, by far is the most radical of the group.  By nature, he is reckless, outgoing, and a born leader.  His upbringing, the son of a wealthy family, only furthers his impulsive nature.  Cameron on the other hand, is nearly the exact opposite.  He is extremely studious but not the typical nerd.  He is ambitious and cares only about furthering his own cause.  He will do anything to impress his superiors and those that can help him but openly disdains the people lower or less fortunate than he.  Cameron and Charlie are the two characters whose personalities are only intensified by their acquaintance with Mr. Keating.

            Charlie's inherent personality flourishes under the instruction of Mr. Keating, but encouragement is not what he needs.  From the beginning of the film, Charlie stands out from the others like a beacon.  As all the boys are settling into their rooms, Charlie wanders in on Neil and immediately makes himself at home on Neil's bed.  He is completely comfortable with himself, both his faults and his virtues.  He is unafraid to speak what he thinks, be it about the school, administration, or his roommate.  However, despite his lack of respect for authority, he still abides by the rules.  When Neil's father forces Neil to drop the school annual, Charlie sympathizes and admits that he also follows his parent's decision as to his future profession.  In the beginning, though his personality is already there, Charlie rarely allows it to take control of his actions.

            Mr. Keating's lessons, targeted towards the meek and conformist prep school students, are right up Charlie's alley.  Charlie, already much more liberal and independent than his peers, becomes even more careless of his thoughts and actions.  The opinions of people whom he does not esteem, the school administration and his parents, mean nothing to him.  As the other students are beginning to come out of their shells and see the world in a new light, Charlie's behavior becomes downright irresponsible.  Through the little things that happen throughout the film, eating the pages of the Pritchard textbook and exercising the right not to walk in the conformity lesson, Charlie demonstrates his new disdain for anything that smacks of authority.  The final straw, however, is when he publishes the article about allowing girls in Welton under the name of the Dead Poet's Society.  Then, he openly mocks and defies Mr. Nolan before the entire school, earning himself a punishment that teaches him nothing.  Nolan mentions to Keating that  "boys [Charlie's] age are very impressionable."  Nolan's remarks further show how ignorant he is of the true nature of his students as he is insinuating that Keating is responsible for Charlie's actions.  Charlie's personality has not changed in the slightest since Mr. Keating took over; it merely has been brought out from hiding. It is rather ironic that Keating replies to Nolan that his "reprimand made quite an impression" where instead it only strengthens Charlie's animosity toward the administration and his resolve to live his life the way he wants to.  Mr. Keating realizes with this incident that Charlie has gone too far and delivers his own reprimand, to temper daring with caution and to live freely but intelligently.

            Cameron, at first glance, seems no more that what he appears.  He is a studious boy who is afraid to break the rules.  However, the rather sinister cumulative picture of Cameron is capped by his decision at the very end of the film.  He begins the movie as the misfit in the group.  The other boys resent his presence and his insufferable know-it-all behavior.  He does everything he can to fit in because he feels that association with the group, whose members are all smart kids, is advantageous to him.  Cameron is rather skeptical about Keating's teaching methods but grudgingly participates because Keating is an authority figure and must be obeyed.  Throughout the movie, Cameron shows his real self.  A prime example is when he copies the scale from the Pritchard textbook and then tries to hide that he drew it when Keating says that it is nonsense.  The real Cameron is revealed after Neil's death and the discovery of the Dead Poet's Society.  He knows that the suicide will be investigated and does not want to be under suspicion.  He dismisses any friendship he might have had with the boys and denounces everyone, especially Keating, to the administration.  Cameron does not know the meaning of loyalty or friendship, telling the other students to "believe what you want, but I say let Keating fry.  I mean, why ruin our lives?"  Originally, Cameron tolerates Keating but as soon as it is no longer profitable for him to do so, he betrays Keating.

            Charlie with his good humor and passionate nature is an idealist.  He feels strongly about everything and has the courage to stand up for what he believes in.  However, sometimes, the willingness to throw everything away is a fault.  As Keating says, "there is a time for daring and a time for caution and a wise man understands which is called for."  In the end, Charlie errs on the side of the foolish; he refuses to cooperate with the administration because of his love and loyalty towards Keating and Neil.  Cameron is the other extreme; he feels no remorse, no sorrow for what he does.  He has no inkling of how important Keating's message and the man himself are to his peers.  Even if he did, none of these boys are really his friends and he could care less about their feelings.  He is seemingly untouched by the time spent as a member of the Dead Poet's Society.  Charlie and Cameron are the only two that come out of this situation virtually unchanged because their personalities are strong enough to start with that Keating's lessons affect them only a little.  Charlie probably emerges more bitter and more defiant; Cameron, more smug.  Despite the vast differences between these two young men, in the end they are the only ones that remain unchanged, for better or for worse.