3 March 2006 | roghache
A masterful tribute to teaching at its best
Dead Poets Society is, to use a cliché, a cinematic masterpiece. I can watch it over and over, absorbing more nuances of meaning every time. As a former teacher myself (albeit of science), I view it as a tribute to the profession at its best...teaching not merely the subject but also the person, and having a lifelong impact on students' lives.
The setting is Weldon Academy, a very traditional New England boys' prep school in 1959. If I can find one flaw with the movie...and there certainly aren't many...it's the underlying premise that seems to worship free thought and implies that ALL tradition is of necessity undesirable and thus to be avoided. Frankly, compared to modern classrooms which are bastions of free expression, I found the Weldon students' respectful treatment of their teachers rather refreshing. (But perhaps that's just the ex-teacher in me coming out!) Some of Weldon's ideals, generally referred to in mocking tones, are actually qualities to which parents rightfully DO hope their offspring will aspire.
Robin Williams plays Mr. Keating, the English teacher we all wish we'd had. He brings warmth, passion, and an endearing quiet humor to the role as he fosters individualism in a school environment of total conformity, endeavoring to teach these young men both the beauty of the English language and the importance of living life to the full, of "seizing the day". How many of us mentally revolted at the dissection of poetry when we were in school? Many a viewer will both chortle and rejoice when Mr. Keating has his class rip out the methodical, emotionless "Introduction to Poetry" from the time honored Pritchard textbook!
The "Dead Poets Society", and the boys on which Mr. Keating has such a profound impact, include an interesting mix of characters...Neil Perry (the passionate young man at odds with his father's clearly defined expectations for his son's life), Todd Anderson (the classic shy adolescent, through whose eyes we view the unfolding drama), Charlie Dalton (the quintessential rebel), Knox Overstreet (the teen with whom most viewers can identify, deep in the throes of first love), and Richard Cameron (the mindless conformist).
Ethan Hawke gives a moving performance as Todd, the younger brother of a former Weldon valedictorian and my personal favorite, who undergoes a character transformation as the plot unfolds. In a sense, this movie is really Todd's story. As another reviewer has wisely pointed out, his best scenes are sometimes when he has no dialogue at all. Your heart will ache for him. The sub-plot of young Overstreet's romance with a girl from a nearby school may not be brilliant, but it provides some light, entertaining relief from the main drama.
Needless to say, Mr. Keating's unorthodox approach meets with obstacles...from his fellow teachers, from the school's ultra traditional Headmaster, from Neil's overbearing father and the other parents, who are depicted as a conservative, status conscious lot. His encouragement of adolescent individualism leads to dramatic consequences for one student in particular, triggering a dramatic scenario that engulfs most of his classmates. I don't want to give the plot away, but Dead Poets Society has the most powerful ending I've experienced in the cinematic world. I could watch it over and over, and tears would either come to my eyes or virtually stream down my cheeks every time.
It's an intelligent film, both gripping to watch and thought provoking afterward. Engaging plot, memorable characters, meaningful theme, wonderfully done scenes and atmosphere...Dead Poets Society has it all. A special tip of my hat to the cinematography; clearly, it should have won an Oscar for the final scene alone.
This is a must-see movie, especially if you're a high school student who hates English. It might just change your view of the subject, even if your actual teacher doesn't quite measure up to Mr. Keating. And for everyone...not only "Carpe Diem", but a certain phrase from a Walt Whitman poem will take on incredible meaning and be remembered forever.