Dead Poets Society (1989)
Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone - John Keating
In "Dead Poets Society" the character John Keating proclaims "Words and ideas can change the world" you could add to that so do movies. Released back in 1989 "Dead Poets Society" could easily be classified as another one of those inspirational school movies with its message of Carpe Diem - Seize the Day. But in many ways it would be doing it an injustice as "Dead Poets Society" is much more, it's thoughtful and thought provoking, amusing and touching and marvellous to watch from beginning to end instilling a sense of, well basically Carpe Diem.
Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke - Alive) a shy and retiring young man is sent to the traditional Welton Academy for boys where his older and popular brother was valedictorian. Sharing a room with the popular Neil (Robert Sean Leonard - Ground Control), a teenager who whilst bright feels pressured by his strict, overbearing father, they soon become friends. Along with some other of the students they become fascinated by new English teacher Professor Keating (Robin Williams - Good Will Hunting) who challenges their way of thinking and the traditional teaching methods inflicted upon them, encouraging them to experience life, think for themselves and seize the day. Each of these students take heed of his words as they reform the Dead Poets Society and start making their own decisions, changing their lives for ever.
On face value "Dead Poets Society" does firmly fit into that criterion of inspirational teacher movie, it has all those components the new teacher, his tradition breaking methods, the objection of other teachers, the pupils whose lives change thanks to his encouragement and so on. But whilst it is truly an inspirational movie it's more original in it's approach without those corny scenes of faux empowerment rather than beautifully crafted scenes which are as much thought provoking as inspirational. It makes you realise that life is short and it is to be lived, experienced and breathed in before you become fodder for the worms and fertilizer for daffodils.
But what is also different is that whilst Robin Williams as Professor Keating is a central figure, this catalyst for the young men to start living and thinking for themselves the focus of "Dead Poets Society" is more on this select band of young men rather than Keating. Each of these young men, be it shy Todd, pressurised Neil or in love Knox each go an a journey of discovery, discovering what life is about and that is why it feels more than just your average inspirational teacher movie. It's cleverly done as well as each of these journeys mirror real life for teenagers, the pressure of parent's expectations, the fear of speaking in public, the fear of taking a risk and doing something different to the norm and so on. It's a movie which actually speaks to you, that thought provoking side makes you realise things about your life and at the same time encourages you to seize the day and start living.
And this inspirational story is wonderful shot against a back drop of autumnal hues. The framing of various shots is just magnificent be it a car driving down a leaf strewn drive way or the stunning sunset over the water, it is sheer beautiful. But at the same time the capturing of the austerity of Welton Academy is just as spectacular. Having gone to a traditional school the authenticity of the classrooms, the assembly hall, the courtyard is spot on conveying the stuffiness of it all as traditional, repetitive teaching methods are drummed in to the young men who sit in fear in the classrooms.
For many "Dead Poets Society" is Robin Williams movie he is the catalyst to all the life changing moments in these young men lives as professor John Keating and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. There is no denying it's a marvellous performance from Williams delivering believability as this man passionate about teaching interspersed with lighter moments of humour, that traditional Robin Williams wackiness.
But for me it is the young men who star in "Dead Poets Society" which make it such a brilliant movie. Ethan Hawke in only his third movie emotes every emotion of a shy young man as Todd Anderson, who is scared of putting himself in the spotlight, yet has this pent up frustration eating at him inside. Robert Sean Leonard as Neil is just as good delivering this bright and popular young man yet also emotes the darkness he has in his life thanks to his overbearing and demanding father. And it goes on Josh Charles in just his second movie delivers all that fear of a young man in love yet scared to act on his feelings, Gale Hansen as Charlie feels suffocated by the tradition of the school. All these young men and there are more put in such brilliant performances to deliver various aspects of what being a teenager is like.
What this all boils down to is that "Dead Poets Society" is a magnificent movie and whilst fitting into that category of an inspirational teacher movie it is so much more. At school you are given a recommended reading list, this is one of those movies which should be on a recommended watching list especially for teenagers so that they can see that taking risks and the path less travelled is something to be encouraged.
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