Dead Poets Society
There are so many of us who remember the great Robin Williams so fondly. It's a crying shame that for a while, in his last days, he was often farced as being a somewhat annoying and in-your-face kind of guy. The problem there is that that particular stereotype forgets his great moments such as this - a drama with a nice, comedic edge as only Williams can bring to the screen, but it's subtle here, and as far as I'm concerned, one of his best performances that shows us all of his sides (except maybe his villainous side, which he also plays incredibly well, but that's for a different set of reviews).
Taking place in 1959, the story's central focus is a junior high school kid named Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke in one of his first roles), who is about to attend his first year at Welton Academy in Vermont; an all-male prep school. There, he befriends a senior named Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), who also happens to be his roommate, and through him meets the likes of new friends Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston). But while they all lend themselves well to the film, the carrier is the new school English teacher, Mr. John Keating (Williams)
Keating enters the scene immediately with a set of unorthodox teaching methods that both surprise and amuse his students. Perhaps the most famous example of this is when he has his students literally rip out a chapter of a textbook, thus desecrating it, but proving the point that something like poetry is deeper than anything a textbook has to teach you as some kind of "absolute". Also famously, Keating encourages these boys to "seize the day" and make their lives extraordinary, which is pretty much what the big takeaway from this film is. As Keating mentions in a huddle with these guys, pursuing careers in things like science in medicine is noble, however, things that flow creatively like art and poetry, and emotions like love are what we live for as the human race.
Eventually, however, without giving away any spoilers, things kind of end up getting out of hand. That's not so much with Keating's teaching methods as the consequences of some of these boys bringing his teachings home with them. We see the unopened parental villains here, who would much rather their kid follow in their footsteps, and/or get a promising career and not dilly-dally in any of the artsy stuff where there's no work. It's always been a great movie to show he consequences of what can happen if a parent doesn't just let their kid be whoever they want to be as an individual - a point Keating really drives home in the film, making him incredibly easy to like. I would say that liking Mr. Keating here is a lot like liking Professor Lupin in 'Prisoner of Azkaban'. You can just see him being your favourite teacher if you were there at that school.
I think at this point in the game, most people know how this movie ends, and it's still just as warm and fuzzy as it ever was. It's a happy ending that seems to drive the point of Keating's teachings home, and with any luck, the audience takes a little something from it as well. A lot of this is about one's ability to think for themselves as opposed to following some path set out before them. It provides a good reminder to its viewing audience that we only have one life, so it's up to us to "seize the day", live life well and take advantage of the opportunities it gives us. All in all a very positive movie with a positive message, and even a little bit of a dark but poetic edge to it. You wouldn't think a movie about poetry and the like would be very riveting, but Robin Williams, along with these boys, really do make something worth watching here, if only to give us something to think about.
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