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In the film “Dead Poets Society”, dir. Peter Weir, we can see vivid pictures from the life at Welton, a very old and traditional boys school. The action is taking place in 1950s. It is predominantly viewed by the eyes of Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawk), newcomer, who is very shy and timid and is under the pressure because of his elder brother, who was successful and popular student of Welton. He and his classmates Knox, Max, Neil Perry and the others, came here to get a classical education and they were expected so. But everything had changed when a new literature teacher, Mr. John Keating (Robin Williams), came. He graduated here and came to teach here. But he taught another way, his methods absolutely differed from those of other teachers and from the spirit of the school in a whole. He was trying to teach them out of the textbooks. He loved poetry very much and wanted his students to love it too and he believed that it would help them in their future life. And Todd, Neil and the whole class loved him very much. They discover that while studying there, Mr. Keating organized the “Dead poets society” and decide to continue this “society”. In the secret from the whole school they get together in a cave at nights, smoked, read poetry and spoke About everything: poetry, girls, philosophy, about the life in a whole.
But the principal doesn’t share the student’s admiration of their teacher. Especially after the fact that Neil Perry killed himself because he wanted to be an actor but his father didn’t allow him. He wanted his son to be a doctor. And the administration saw (or wanted to see) here the influence of Mr. Keating and his lessons. All the members of the “society” were punished and Mr. Keating – dismissed. But in the final scene, when he come to take his belongings, some his students stand up at the desks to show their protest and solidarity with their favorite teacher.
In this film Peter Weir in a masterly way showed the conflict between hypocrisy spirit of Welton and fresh jet of Keating’s philosophy. In a broad meaning it can be considered as a conflict between romantism and realism, between the way we would like to live and the way we live, the real life and how should we do with this problem.
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The lead role in this film is performed by Robin Williams, and in this role he is brilliant, as always. He proved again that he is bright not only in comic roles, but also as a dramatic actor and can combine these two abilities. At the first sight his Mr. Keeting seemed to be very comic and ridiculous. But then we can see how he transforms, when he speaks about poetry, how enthusiastic he is and how he infects his students by his enthusiasm and love of poetry. He teaches them how to live, how to escape narrow limits, rules, how to be free and express themselves: he begins his class with pulling out the pages from literature textbook, telling them that it is impossible to describe poetry with rules and graphs. He helps them to stretch their minds and not to be afraid of being “another” and go against the status quo, go against the society, which tells them what to do, and create their own independence. His motto is “seize the day” (carpe diem) and he allow students to call him “O captain, my captain”, which is from a Walt Whitman poem about Abraham Lincoln. He said: “No matter what anybody tells you; words and ideas can change the world”. And he changed all their life and their notion about the life. And for that he was rewarded by love and admiration from his students.
I think the personage of Mr. Keating, excellently performed by Robin Williams, is the best in this movie, especially on the background of the hyperbolical personage of Neil Perry. I think that if Neal learned everything he was taught in a right way, he would straggle for his beliefs, instead of taking his own life. Of course, this step needs a great amount of courage, but nevertheless, I think it is too dramatically and depressing in this case. Some things are exaggerated as well, especially in the scenes, when Neil is trying a crown of thorns, and when Todd is going upstairs, like on Golgotha. The obvious comparison with Christ doesn’t suit here, I suppose.
Nevertheless, I think some scenes are quite realistic and even instructive. We can see how the movie heroes love, fight for love, how they are learned to be honest and how they betray. But the best, I think is the final scene, when Todd, the most shy boy, first stands up to show the protest against the director, administration and the whole system and to show his teacher, that he understood what he wanted to say them, to show that he has changed and now he is able to change the world around him. Some students go after him, but not everyone. Only those, who are brave enough to stand up for their beliefs, to go against the system, the “majority”. And this is the main award for Mr. Keating and, I think, for any teacher in general.
Despite the fact, that the movie ends with the “open final”, it is clear, that even if they will be punished or excluded, they already get the most important lesson in their life. They already know, how should they live to respect themselves.
However, the film “Dead Poets Society” is quite realistic and somehow instructive, despite some depressing and exaggerated scenes. The play of actors, especially Robin Williams, as well as director’s and operator’s work is excellent, I think. Maybe it can help us in our learning how we should stand up against the majority for our beliefs.
In general I would say that this movie is worth to be seen.