The Critic – The Dead Poets Society

I’m not one for poetry, at all. Throughout school my teachers would always come up with snappy remarks when I told them I didn’t like poetry, I never had a reason to give them so they would always just ignore me for the most part. Grade 12 came around and my English teacher said it was time to get to the Poetry unit of the course, I was not pleased at all, we had to write our own poem so I wrote a haiku about how much I dislike poetry, she wasn’t pleased but I got a good mark. A bit later in that unit we got to do everyone’s favourite part of any class, watch a movie. Most kids take this as a chance to sleep during class but I love movies so I was always legitimately excited for the movies. My excitement was drastically lessened when I found out it was a movie called The Dead Poets Society, a movie all about something I did not enjoy. But it was a very highly praised movie so of course there was the film lover in me that was excited to see it. This was almost 2 years ago now as it was near the beginning of my grade 12 year, and now I’m revisiting this movie that I enjoyed so much then, when I was half asleep and done with the day’s last block. Will I enjoy it as much as I did? Let’s find out.

The Dead Poets Society is a film about a group boys at who attend Welton Academy in 1959, the Academy is a very typical, stuffy school filled with old teachers who are very stuck in their ways. A new year begins and the student body finds out the former English teacher has retried, the new teacher, Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams, is much younger than his coworkers, he was once an honors student at Welton and has come back from London to teach. When the his first class starts he introduces himself and, after reading a few paragraphs of the introduction in the poetry text, he has the students rip out the whole of the introduction, he then tells quotes to the students a few lines from the poem Oh Captain! My Captain!  and tells them that if they are feeling adventurous that they can call him “My Captain!” He teaching methods are unorthodox and a few times throughout the film they are scrutinized by other teachers, especially when he expresses his belief that the students need to learn to think for themselves.

There are two boys that are at the very heart of this movie, Neil Perry played by Robert Sean Lenard and Todd Anderson played by Ethan Hawke, Anderson being the new kid in the school. These two boys couldn’t be more different from one another, Neil is boisterous and outgoing, while Todd is incredibly shy and seems socially awkward. Neil and Todd become roommates at the beginning of the year and Neil makes sure to include him in with his group of established friends. As the year goes on the boys learn to look up to Mr. Keating and his odd ways, eventually they find out that when he was in school Keating was a hell raiser of his own accord and was a founding member of a group known as The Dead Poets Society. This group would go to a cave beyond the school at midnight and sit around reading poetry and writing poetry, thinking and dreaming, as Keating said “We were romantics!” This prompts the boys to secretly start up the group once again.

Throughout the movie the boys all learn and grow as characters, their group becomes more tight with each other and their friendship grows to new levels. Todd becomes able to speak his mind more and gets over his fear of public speaking and Neil, who has to do everything his father wants him to do and nothing else, learns to stand up for himself. The main example of this is that Neil decides that he is going to try out for the school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he gets the lead but his father would never accept this so he forges the letter of approval need to take the part. His father finds out that he is in the play and demands that Neil quit, but he won’t, he stands up to his father and in the end goes through with it.

This film has some very tear filled and heart wrenching moments, two big ones are near the end of the movie. The final scene in this movie, to me, is one of the most beautiful and powerful scenes in any movie ever made, it is an iconic scene where the boys stand up on their desks while Mr. Keating is leaving after being fired and call out to him “Oh Captain! My Captain!” they yell out. This scene captures the point of this film so well, everything that happened in the movie was building up to this amazing, legendary, scene and it caps the movie off perfectly.

Yes The Dead Poets Society has a few corny moments, the moment they all choose to create the Society is a glaring example of this, but it was the 80’s, give it some slack. The music was very enjoyable, it wasn’t anything that stands out in my mind as an amazing soundtrack but it did its job well. At various points in the movie we would see Keating walking around and hear him whistling the 1812 Overture and that, to me, made his character, it spoke magnitudes about him as a person and it’s a beautiful song, a moving song that fits in perfectly with the movie. It’s big, it’s epic, it is a song of power, and what is Keating trying to do? Show these boys they have power.

I would say that The Dead Poets Society holds up after all these years since its release, and I think that I feel more moved by it now then I did 2 years ago in English class. It’s a well made, well crafted movie that speaks volumes about our culture and where we have come in, at that point, 30 years and it still says how far we’ve come in the 23 years since it’s release. We are no longer bound to follow in our parents footsteps and do everything in our power to become just like them, we have the ability to be free thinkers and do as we please. We can learn what we want and become who and what we want to become. That is the message of this brilliant movie: Seize the Day.

Carpe Diem.

The Dead Poets Society:  9/10

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead. 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead. 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

***

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Follow Nathan on Twitter @Nait93.

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One thought on “The Critic – The Dead Poets Society

  1. Very well done Nathan, I am impressed that after two years your are applying your skills of the written language and appreciating it that much more.

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