It’s been a year since the world was rocked by the untimely death of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014. Hours after reports of his death were made known, many flocked to social media sites to commemorate the beloved actor by citing quotations from his best known works. Although Williams appeared in several memorable pictures during his long career, the quote which appeared the most was the famous “Oh Captain, my Captain” line from “Dead Poets Society” (1989).
As I hadn’t seen the film at the time, and having no idea what the plot consisted I was baffled to say the least by this quotation. I had a vague notion for what went on, thanks to an episode of “Friends”, in which Monica (Courteney Cox) meets a woman who has stolen both her credit cards and her identity. In one scene, “Fake” Monica relates to our Monica on how she was inspired to change her life after seeing a movie that was “so incredibly boring”- “Dead Poets Society”. After realizing that she was never going to get the past two hours of her life back, “that scared me more then all the other crap I was afraid to do”.
However, I was intrigued by the description of the plot, so I decided to investigate this apparently dull movie. Set in 1959, the film takes place in an elite private boarding school, “Welton’s Academy for Boys”. The story centres around a bashful new student, Todd (Ethan Hawke), his light-hearted room mate Neil(Sean Robert Leonard) and his study group- playful Charlie(Gale Hansen), whimsical Knox (Josh Charles), brainy Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero), brawny Pitts (James Waterson) and stuffy overachiever Richard Cameron (Dylan Kaussman). The boys are pressured to work hard in their academic careers if they stand chances of getting into Ivy League colleges.
The arrival of new English teacher, and alumnus of Welton, John Keating (Robin Williams) and his unconventional methods of teaching, under the Latin mantra “Carpe Diem” (or “Seize the Day”) challenges the status quo. The boys are inspired by his ways, and conspire to restart the eponymous Dead Poets Society, which Keating founded when he was a student. Todd starts to emerge from his shell, Knox uses poetry to woo Chris (Alexandra Powers), a sweet-natured girl from a neighboring school, and Neil discovers a love of acting when he partakes in a local production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. But his controlling father (Kurtwood Smith) demands that Neil forgo his acting dream to become a doctor, unwittingly setting forth a series of tragic circumstances…
Even though “Dead Poets Society” appears to be a cliche story about a cool teacher winning over his students with the most unorthodox methods possible, in the hands of Williams and director Peter Weir, the film is truly inspiring in many ways. This film belongs to Williams, as he relentlessly pursuits in making learning fun for his pupils. The scene in which Keating has the boys stand atop of their desks in order to view the world from another perspective, which eventually becomes the basis of the climatic final scene, as well as countless parodies in other works.
The actors portraying the Welton students have excellent chemistry with each other, but Ethan Hawke as Todd is the stand out for me, especially in the scene where he’s despondent over his parents gifting him with a desk set,as they do every year, and favour his older brother over him. His friendship with Neil encourages him to find his voice.
All in all, I give “Dead Poets Society” a total of four and a half stars out of five, as it’s a tale that can inspire mature teenagers to share their opinions without fear of being reprimanded for doing so. However, the film gets sadder towards the end, which could be upsetting for younger kids in turn.
In my opinion, Robin Williams delivered the most memorable performance of his career, and won’t that shouldn’t be forgotten any time soon. Thank you Robin, oh my captain, my captain.