Dead Poets Society Movie Review

 by Bernhard Marshall - January 5, 2004

dead poets society poster"But this is no goth movie!" you scream at the screen. Yes, this isn't. But goth isn't anymore only about vampires and witches. At least to me, goth is a depth of feeling and of thought, a rebellious but transcendent attitude, and this is what this movie is about.

Let's get inside the story of the Dead Poets' Society...

"Carpe Diem...Seize The Day, Boys...Make Your Lives Extraordinary"

The Dead Poets Society is a 1989 movie, directed by Peter Weir and with Robin Williams as the main actor. However the actors who played the co-starts in this movie had sensitive and deep performances and this movie is as worth seeing for the great talent of Williams, as much as for the talents of the young Ethan Hawke and the other actors.

The story starts in the beginning of the school year at the men-only Welton School in 1959. No matter how much things may be changing outside, with rock n' roll playing on the radio for example, at that school all is traditional, conventional and "clean".

Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) is away from his family for the first time, and he's full of irrational fears and doubts. He's going to share the bedroom with Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), who's his opposite, but who hides the most brutal conflicts with his authoritarian father.

The first thing the Literature teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) does when he gets in the classroom, is cross it, whistling a classical music tune and then calls the astonished students to join him at the awards room.

Once there, he shows them the pictures of several groups of students who had been in their place decades before and tells them the motto of the movie: "carpe diem"(seize the day), meaning the importance of not having an ordinary life.

Little by little, Keating starts to teach them, through the poetry of Walt Whitman, Shakespeare and others, that there's more to life than only following the rules of a stagnant and corrupt society.

Some of their students slowly, although fearfully, try to follow his words, like Anderson, others get deeply inspired by his words and see it as a way out of their dispair, like Perry, and others still simply don't give a damn...

dead poets society imageThe unorthodox method of teaching used by Keating starts to get on the nerves of the other teachers, who see that as a threat to the peace and order of the school and to the moral of the students.

Things get worse after one of the students finds a yearbook of the time Keating studied there and spreads the story of the Dead Poets' Society, which was a "subversive" gathering of students that included Keating and that used to meet in the woods to read poetry and exercise some creativity.

That's when a Shakespeare Festival is scheduled and Perry gets mad to take part in it. But his father is totally against it, because he thinks anything poetic and theatrical is frivolous and immoral and his son's supposed to be studying to become a doctor.

Even so, Perry decides to dare, and he types an authorization and fakes his father's signature on it, to be able to take part in a staging of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

In the meantime, Anderson, Perry and some other students of their class start to gather in a cave in the middle of the woods, after Keating left a book in Perry's room, with a collection of 19th century poems that the Dead Poets' Society members used to read during the meetings.

But there's also Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), who's the rich boy of the group, was supposed to be studying to become a lawyer, but what he's interested in is to use the teachings of Keating about poetry and creativity to get some girls. In time, Overstreet starts to call some vain girls to join the meetings of the Dead Poets' Society, which spoils the original purpose of the gathering.

robin williams in dead poets societyThe play is presented, Perry is much praised for his performance as Puck, but his father gets infuriated and prohibits him from ever stepping on a stage again, no matter what his son's feelings may be.

That same night in an act of dispair, Perry gets his father's pistol and shots himself, and only then the old Perry realizes that he was commiting a mistake.

Still, he blames Keating for his teaching as the true reason behind his son's suicide, so an inquiry starts at the school, during which Anderson, Overstreet and the other students are beaten as a punishment and have to choose between confessing that Keating was the cause of their "bad behavior" by signing a confession or being expelled.

Keating is fired and the last scene of the movie is when he's leaving the classroom and all his faithful students - including the timid Anderson - stand over their tables as an homage to his teaching.

There's much more to this movie than what was described here, so I advise you to go and rent it. In the end, you may not like the movie itself, but isn't its message what all of us wish for?   

 If you want more information:

Dead Poets Society - IMDB

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Copyright 2004 Bernhard Marshall

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