[FILM] Dead Poets Society

Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

John Keating

I expected a conventional story where the arrival of a new teacher with unorthodox teaching methods and constantly in high spirits would trigger the existing boys of the prestigious Welton Academy to rebel against their new teacher only to befriend him at the end. While a large part of the story played out exactly like how I expected, the impact and twist in storyline did not.

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 coming-of-age film that stars the late comedian Robin Williams as the new English professor to Welton; a very young Ethan Hawke (I swear I could not recognise his boyish face despite seeing it in the main title credits) as a shy and introverted student living in the shadows of his National Merit Scholar older brother; and Robert Sean Leonard a hardworking, and popular student who struggles with his love of acting and being filial to his parents.

A self-expression class which encourages Todd to break out of his shell

Maybe I have watched much of 3 Idiots or The Breakfast Club but I initially thought the students would not be receptive of Mr Keating’s teaching and instead, try to find ways to throw their new teacher out but it was not the case. The students, surprisingly, responded positively to the lessons, the way they were conducted — which include standing on the tables to learn to look at different perspective; literally marching to the beat of one’s own drum to teach the importance of individualism than conforming to norms amongst many other valuable life lessons — and were so inspired by Mr Keating’s love for poetry that they restart the Dead Poets Society, an informal and not-school-approved literary and poetry club in the small cave near their campus.

The lesson on conformity

I loved every bits of the movie and I have to say that it really is wholesome. There was no conflict among the students (even so only till the film’s ending), the rivalry between the teaching faculty was one of sound reason and not fueled by jealousy, and the teacher-student relationships were reasonable, not too close and not too defiant. The plot twist was sudden and very unexpected, a reminiscent of the Taiwanese film I have watched a while back A Sun, and definitely left a deep impression on me.

Are Mr Keating’s lessons truly applicable?
I would say yes to a certain extent. We all live in a society and every now and then, we have to or we choose to conform with social norms to avoid sticking out. There is nothing wrong and certainly no shame in conforming, but I guess the point of that lesson is for individuals to retain and find their own voice and learning how to protect it and understanding which are the situations to conform or rebel.

I, however, am conflicted for the case of Neil who suffers immensely from his dominating dad (who calls their dad ‘Sir’?!) who only wants him to be a doctor and not the actor which Neil has strong passion in. Even after Neil was casted as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his dad disapproved and went on to pull Neil out of Welton and enrolled him in a military school. Neil felt trapped because of his dad’s antics but I can see where Mr Perry is coming from. The Perrys are not as well off as the Daltons, and Neil could very well be the Perrys’ only hope at elevating their social status. Mr Perry, having only seen just one production of Neil, could very well believe that acting was a mere fleeting moment of Neil and ignore his son’s dreams. Maybe Neil would grow tired of acting. Or maybe Neil is ok with treating acting as a hobby and not a professional career. Mr Perry has every right to care for his son’s future but Neil also has the right to fight for his future, and this is something I do not have a solid opinion on.

The boys stand in defiance of Headmaster Nolan as they bid farewell to Mr Keating

Regardless, I truly feel that Dead Poets Society is a must-watch coming-of-age story that teaches students not to rebel, but to discover who they really are, what their interests are and to seize the day. I absolutely loved the character development of Todd Anderson (played by Ethan Hawke) as he grew from this shy quiet-spoken boy to the first one that defied Headmaster Nolan at the film’s ending.

Thank you O Captain, my Captain!

Thank you Robin Williams. Rest in peace.

Rating: 3 out of 3.

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