Aug 15, 2014

[Movies] Dead Poets Society (1989)

With the surprise passing of Robin Williams this week, I think a lot of us are trying to come to terms with the reality of things and also looking back at fond memories because of his many movies. It's easy to dismiss him as "just" an actor or celebrity, but the passion that he poured into his craft was almost palpable when you watched any of his movies, no matter or good or how bad they were. And thus many of us are trying to write our feelings and pay tribute to the man in one way or another.

I've lost track of how many times I've watched Dead Poets Society. It was just one of those school-approved movies that often got touted out by Reading, English or Literature classes year after year. But in all honesty, I loved the movie and when the news of his death broke, I found myself thinking back to his portrayal of Mr. Keating, the rather unconventional English teacher with a true passion for literature.

I think a lot of my aspirations as a writer were formed while watching this movie. And my true appreciation for poetry also came from watching this movie.

Robin Williams will be sorely missed.

Synopsis: Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama movie directed by Peter Weir with a screenplay by Tom Schulman. The movie received many awards nominations and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the BAFTA Award for Best Film, to name a few.

The Welton Academy is an elite prep school that holds the values of tradition, honor, discipline, and excellence" above all else. And Neil (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd (Ethan Hawke), Knox (Josh Charles), Charlie (Gale Hansen), Richard (Dylan Kussman), Steven (Allelon Ruggiero), and Gerard (James Waterston) are seniors at the school this year. And they're all more than a little surprised to meet John Keating (Robin Williams), who is to be their English teacher this year. Keating employs rather unconventional teaching methods and stresses the value of carpe diem. He even has students rip out pages of their textbooks that he finds to be ridiculous.

With all of Keating's unusual classroom experiences, his students eventually discover that Keating was also a student at the school. This leads them to learn about the Dead Poets Society, which was the school's literary club at the time. The seniors decided to revive the club and find a secret place off-campus for their meetings. There they read poetry and discuss how they felt about it. And in time Keating's unconventional methods start to rub off on the students, inspiring them to perform various acts of defiance against the rigid school system.

Back in the day, I think a lot of us wished that we had a teacher like John Keating, And I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of teachers tried to emulate him in turn. I think what made Keating so inspiring was the fact that he engaged the students as equals. He was willing to try different techniques to get his students to appreciate what they were reading and to bring the various texts to life. By showing the students how passionate he was about the work, he inspired them to look at things from a different perspective.

And we have Robin Williams to thank for Keating being brought to life on the screen. And this wasn't some over-the-top Robin Williams (although he's totally capable of that when it's more appropriate), but one who was engaging, charming, brilliant, and yet still human. It's hard to imagine anyone else performing this role at the time and I'm personally thankful that he took on the role.

To be fair though, the movie as a whole wasn't necessarily perfect. It maintained this rather somber and very serious tone throughout which made some parts feel badly-paced at times. It had a lot to say and it seems that Keating was the sole source of wisdom in this movie (at least for the most part). As much as he was highly unconventional, you'd think that there would be some other members of the faculty who would at least warm up to his enthusiasm for teaching.

It's interesting to look back at Robert Sean Leonard here, who seems to painfully young in this role. I say this since when you see him on TV now, he has certainly aged but still has a lot of that awkward boyish charm about him. And Neil's story arc in this movie is indeed a powerful one, a story that now seems all the more bittersweet in the context of Williams' death.

But that ending scene. Man, it still gives me goosebumps.

Dead Poets Society is a movie that admittedly holds a special place in my heart and I'm not sure if everyone would feel the same about about the movie if they were to watch it today. But it remains to be a pretty solid movie and one that showcases the unique manner in which Robin Williams handles dramatic roles - he's never all serious, but he can certainly move you. Thus the movie rates 4 student acts of defiance out of a possible 5.


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