Here goes my first review!
This is a movie about a group of boys in an elite prep school who are trying to fulfill their parents’ high expectations when a new English professor teaches them to question the status quo and inspires them to embrace life with passion, poetry, and individuality. The boys form the secret Dead Poets Society, in which they read poetry in a cave by night while also trying to accomplish their own dreams by day, with positive and negative consequences.
I watched this movie twice several months ago and it instigated so much thoughts and conclusions (thereby falling into a love-hate relationship with the story) that I decided to write up a review/analysis.
Let me know what you think! 🙂
/ Trailer /
/ Tech Specs /
Directed by Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Way Back)
Script by Tom Schulman
Starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke
Genre: American Drama, Period, Coming-of-age
Industry Content Rating: PG
Awards: The BAFTA Award for Best Film, the César Award for Best Foreign Film, and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film. The scriptwriter Tom Schulman received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. (According to Wikipedia.org)
/ Storyline /
Painfully shy Todd Anderson has been sent to the school where his popular older brother was valedictorian. His roommate, Neil Perry, although exceedingly bright and popular, is very much under the thumb of his overbearing father. The two, along with their other friends, meet Professor Keating, their new English teacher, who tells them of the Dead Poets Society, and encourages them to go against the status quo. Each does so in his own way, and is changed for life.
(Quoted from From IMDB.com)
/ Positives /
Retro 1959. Boarding school. And bagpipes. (I have a weakness for bagpipes and all things Scottish.)
The characters (especially Neil, Professor Keating, and Todd) and acting.
The camaraderie among the schoolboys is very close and all the more touching when their unity is shocked by Neil’s decision. And in contrast to the boys’ friendship and formation of the Dead Poets Society, they each feel and try to balance the pressure placed upon them by the school and their parents/family – another thing I can closely relate to.
I also love the contrast shown between Neil (the charismatic and bold one) and Todd (the quiet/introvert/rule-follower), yet they still are able to become friends.
Really have to give it up to all the actors to bring these characters to life from the script. It’s impossible to not love Neil (and to not swallow back tears) when I finished.
A fresh perspective of life (and English Lit) via Carpe Diem, which is also one of the major downfalls of this story. Since it’s presented as Truth when reality it’s a Partial Truth. Only living out Carpe Diem/Romanticism without good sense and solid standards to live by leads to down to the mire, from which some literally never come out alive. However, on the positive side, I like Professor Keating’s emphasis of individuality, nonconformity, and the whole “think for yourself and not just out of the textbook commentary” concept.
The literary quotations/references.
Although I’m not well read in terms of Whitman and Thoreau, I appreciate all the literary recitations/quotations in the film. They are all very well delivered by the characters and serves to strengthen the Romanticism theme Professor Keating advocates for his students to live by. And there really are quite a few worthy original quotations from this script.
/ Negatives /
The largest issue I have with this movie is the lack of clarity as to the actual moral of the story, which means this story requires a lot of analysis on the audience’s part.
**(Spoilers until “Conclusion” section)**
While I identify the main theme as pro-Romanticism (Professor Keating teaching his students that we live and die so life should be lived and viewed as extraordinary and worth living, but nothing is really discussed about after death, which is SO important), Neil’s suicide in the end ironically comes across to me as saying “look, this is the ultimate end of this kind of mentality.”
I do realize that another (and rather valid) interpretation may be that the rigid conservatism of Neil’s parents and Welton Academy led Neil to do what he did. I think it’s very likely he would not have shot himself after performing the play if 1) his father realizes that his boy has talent and instead encourage it or maybe set a contingency that he must be able to support himself with a living while pursuing the art, or 2) Neil talks to his father about his despair and expresses how much he feels he needs to act. The fact that Neil refused to openly communicate, perhaps because he “knows” his father will refuse lead me to conclude this story promotes a sort of liberal education agenda along the veins of “parents should let their teens follow their dreams/feelings/whatever they may be without holding them back.” I completely disagree with this type of education of children (since when did YA ever know what’s really good for them?), since teens need a lot of proper guidance and wisdom, though this should be balanced by love and open communication.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY is a very well-acted movie with some important points all teens/YA/students should think about – including independent thinking, youth rebellion, parental expectations vs. peer pressure vs. personal dreams, and the balance between wisdom and passion. It presents a very realistic portrait of the young adult struggles in the search for meaning and a hopeful future. (Should you pursue your own dreams or the dreams your mentors have laid out for you?) This story’s emotional appeal cannot be denied.
However, the film’s incomplete presentation of truth makes it difficult for me to give this a whole-hearted five star rating. There are some wonderful but unfulfilled opportunities here for the filmmakers to communicate a message about the meaning of life and also how to live passionately (Carpte Diem) and wisely. Perhaps they were attempting to communicate a positive message via negative example, but it’s one of those stories you have to think about because the answer is not given straightforwardly. My take: All heart and no head can likely lead to ultimately Despair and Death, due to lack of wisdom/logic, recklessness, depression/anxiety, hopelessness. All head and no heart can likely lead to a view that life is mundane and ordinary and without passion. I would recommend watching this only in cases where older teens/YA can discuss this story with one’s parents/mentors.
Ratings in a Glimpse:
- Entertainment Value: 4 of 5
- Aesthetic Quality: 4 of 5
- Story: 3.75 of 5
- Characters: 4.5 of 5
- Acting: 5 of 5
- Visuals: 4 of 5
- Sexual: Light – a few sexual references, kissing, picture of nude female briefly shown
- Language: Light
- Violence: Light – mostly implied
- Morality: Depends on audience’s interpretation of film’s message/goal, which is subtle and can be taken multiple ways, 2.5 of 5 (inconsistent, vague, lacking, partial truth)
- For older/mature teens and adults to watch with parents/mentors and discuss important, real life topics
Overall Conclusion: 3.75 of 5, Worth the time but caution strongly advised
/ Discussion Questions /
Due to possible spoilers inherent in the discussion questions, please click Page 2 to see them. I also included some additional thoughts I have related to the questions.
Thanks for reading!
Have any of you seen this film? What do you think of it and my review? I’d love to talk it over with you or hear any other comments/questions you may have. 🙂
P.S. I wish to thank Evelyn from https://theraindrenchedwriter.blog/ for her timely, thoughtful, and thorough feedback on the formatting, content, and wording for this first review. They were much appreciated! 🙂