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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dead Poet's Society

Dead Poet’s Society (1989) There are certain films that get under your skin, never to come out. They change your life, subtly altering your perceptions of reality, almost always for the better. Dead Poets Society is one of those few films. Dead Poets Society is, to use a cliche, a cinematic masterpiece. Dead Poets Society was a movie that took some in-depth realization. It's an intelligent film, both gripping to watch and thought provoking afterward. Engaging plot, memorable characters, meaningful theme, wonderfully done scenes and atmosphere... Dead Poets Society has it all. Special kudos to the cinematography; clearly, it should have won an Oscar for the final scene alone. However, every time I mention this film, I can gladly say that this movie went far and beyond the 80s, and the power and inspiration of the message can be felt every day.

Any film about any sort of greatness faces one particular challenge: how to depict that greatness. For example, to write a great film about a great poet, would you also need to be able to write great poetry? In fact, 'Dead Poets Society ' is a film about not a great poet, but an (allegedly) great teacher.

'Dead Poets Society' is a beautiful movie from start to finish. The setting is Weldon Academy, a very traditional New England boys' prep school in 1959. The 'four pillars' of the school, "Tradition, Honor, Discipline, Excellence display the foundation of the system." Robin Williams plays Mr. Keating; the English teacher who brings warmth, passion, and an endearing quiet humor to the role. The "Dead Poets Society", and the boys on which Mr. Keating has such a profound impact, include an interesting mix of characters : Neil Perry (the passionate young man at odds with his father's clearly defined expectations for his son's life), Todd Anderson (the classic shy adolescent, through whose eyes we view the unfolding drama), Charlie Dalton (the quintessential rebel), Knox Overstreet (the teen with whom most viewers can identify, deep in the throes of first love), and Richard Cameron (the mindless conformist). Then we have the performances. Robin Williams continues in stride as one who has to-date remained the most touching, heart-wrenching, awe-inspiring comedians with inarguable acting talent.

John Keating is a man who embodies every professor who you thought was cool and respectable, every person who taught or enlightened you in something out of the ordinary. In fact - dare I say it? - He teaches something EXTRAORDINARY! And, although Williams' name appears above the title, he's not really in it very much. The picture is really about the boys, who get most of the screen time. And each of them is given a character trait, more or less In a sense, this movie is really Todd's story, his best scenes are sometimes when he has no dialogue at all. Your heart will ache for him. The best thing about Keating's classroom technique is the way he analyzes his students until he can determine their needs and see through their defenses. Keating sizes up the boys' attitudes and problems and then openly teases the kids about them. In the process, he disarms them, helps defuse their hang-ups. And in these moments, we see what makes him a valuable teacher. But Keating's noble ideas about passion and beauty are stifled as much by the movie that contains him as by the school that employs him.

Robin Williams did a fantastic job depicting individualism and how to walk on your own. He realized that these young men were going to be shaped in either a bad way or could shape themselves into the type of men they wanted to become. Sure, everyone around them was jerks and stiffs but that is the environment of the school. People just didn't go up against all odds, and everything was OK. That is exactly what Dead Poets Society was showing. Even though there were consequences to the boys being inspired and re-forming "Dead Poets Society" they still learned to march to their own drummer. They could be boys and go for their own dreams. Standing on desks may not make everything better, but it shows the real meaning of the movie. These boys had been taught to conform and put their beliefs aside, but Williams opened up their hearts and made a lot of people, whether they liked it or not, realize that tradition is not always the way to push your children.

An older, more experienced teacher questions whether 15- to 17-year-old kids are really ready yet to handle Keating's brand of freedom. This smells like the set-up for a promising battle of philosophies, but Keating's sympathetic intellectual sparring partner promptly drops out of the movie, reappearing only occasionally and then as a mere background figure. Needless to say, Mr. Keating's unorthodox approach meets with obstacles from his fellow teachers, from the school's ultra traditional Headmaster, from Neil's overbearing father and the other parents, who are depicted as a conservative, status conscious lot.

The direction by Weir is great. There are some really beautiful sequences such as the winter ones and when the boys go out in the dead of night for "society" meetings. Incidentally Dead Poets Society is the boys getting together in a cave late at night and reading poetry or telling tall tales to each other. Sounds strange, but it works in the context of the movie.

This is a must-see movie, for everyone ... not only but a certain phrase from a Walt Whitman poem will take on incredible meaning and be remembered forever."Carpe Diem, lads! Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!" as he fosters individualism in a school environment of total conformity, endeavoring to teach these young men both the beauty of the English language and the importance of living life to the full. I don't want to give the plot away, but Dead Poets Society has the most powerful ending I've experienced in the cinematic world. I could watch it over and over, and tears would either come to my eyes or virtually stream down my cheeks every time. I watch it at all; I did. And yes, I feel I changed a bit from there on.

A web link for English Teachers and Poetry lovers..

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