Dead Poets Society: Analysis

I am part of the education process for special needs students in a school. I am a writer, a scriptwriter, and would like to call myself a free-thinker. As such, I can say the Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society resonates with me quite a bit. I watched part of this film before after Robin Williams had died, and I watch it now in full for the first time with new eyes in wonder of all this movie has to offer. Not only does the film have a message of independence, free will, and fighting for what you believe in, it also has several ideals in it in which makes the film reach high levels of importance and perfection on the scale of cinematography.

We can relate to much of the teachings found in this film as scholars of film, dreamers, and followers of aspiration alike. As a poet, writer, or film reviewer we must be able to see from new perspectives, we shouldn’t only see films through the lens of how we believe the creator may want us to see the film, but of how we personally see the art that has been crafted.

 

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Dead Poets Society is a drama run by conflict, it features character development, an internal message, and creates a wide arrange of powerful emotions. If there is ever a film that wishes you to feel something deep within yourself, it is this one. Conflict is the single most important part of any story, without it, there is no film, just a happy ending. As we have learned, it used to be in Hollywood’s nature to give us happy endings and compelling stories. Compare this film to Chaplin’s A Great Dictator the war may rage on and his friends may have lost their home, but we are still filled with a rush of happiness hearing Chaplin’s speech at the end, or seeing Keating smile as his students rise upon their desks in his honor. A drama is supposed to create a whirlwind of emotions for its audience and the only way to do that is through conflict. In this film, each character has their own conflict which ties into their character development.

Leim discovers he has been an actor his whole life. He plays the role of an obedient son, but as Mr. Keating teaches him to think differently, he learns of his deep passion for acting. He learned how to be himself and to fight for what he believed in even if that means dying for it. Knox found himself madly in love with a girl who he could not have. He discovered that he had always been quiet and decided to take control over his life by not quitting until he had the girl he loves.

 

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Robin Williams character, John Keating, had already gone through his development. In the original screenplay, the students discover he has Hodgkin’s disease. Mr. Keating is dying of cancer and because of this, it is important for him to “seize the day” for the little time he has remaining.

That was Keating’s change of character and the motion that he wished to impose onto all of his students. Not all of them complied, stiffs like Richard Cameron and Hopkins were slow to change their ways. Cameron became a very hated character while he developed into nothing, learned little from Keating, and ended up turning him in. While Hopkins who never really saw the point of Keating’s bizarre methods eventually found his way as he too rose to the occasion and stood on his desk as a farewell to Keating. Todd Anderson played a very important role in this film. His conflict was not only to live up to his families impressive name but also, as Neil’s roommate he was adopted into the Dead Poets Society although being awkward and non-outgoing like the rest of them. Slowly, we watched his character develop as he became able to overcome his fears and break out of his shell. In the beginning, he could also have been described as unemotional, someone who cared little, but after his roommate committed suicide, he did become very emotional and started to fight on the behalf of Mr. Keating being the first to rise and say “Oh Captain, my Captain.”

 

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The fact that Robin Williams himself was struck with the disease of depression and hid it over his years until inevitably committing suicide, has a major impact on the audience while viewing this movie. One has to wonder about any possible correlation between the events in the film or the impact his role had on him. Like Neil, Williams kept a part of himself hidden from the world although his part much darker.

 

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Like many great films, Dead Poets Society raises a major question; Who is to blame for Neil’s death? Was it Neil, himself. He did take on the teachings of Keating too strongly, he obsessed over the idea of non-conformity, we also are lead to believe that he did not take Keating’s advice and tell his father about his passion for acting. He was again given the perfect opportunity back in his house as his father asked him what it was Neil wanted to say, but he was silent in fear going against all of Keating’s teachings. There is the obvious answer to blame the controlling father who was made to play the bad guy and force his son into ten years of military and medical schooling. Then there is also the path less taken, blaming Mr. Keating as Cameron and the school district did. We are lead to believe this answer to be immoral. Charlie Dalton, the eccentric and overly outgoing member of Dead Poets Society goes out of his way to punch Cameron in the face signing his expulsion papers to defend Keating’s name. Although the film leads you away from this idea, one must look at the proof. One argument could be that if Neil never witnessed Mr. Keating’s absurd methods of teaching free will and seizing the day, he would never have killed himself. While this whole situation was very sad one must wonder how much impact of the note that both Keating left Neil at the beginning of the film and that Neil then left to Keating. It became sort of a message to each other that could be taken different ways. These two did have an oddly “red flag” relationship with each other which helps us understand why Keating cried after reading the note, but also makes us wonder if he felt guilty.

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“To be read at the openings of D.P.S. meetings.

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What type of impact did this have on the character Neil and to Robin Williams in real life? Does it mean that life is meaningless if you are not doing what you were born to do? Is life pointless if you do not love your life? Perhaps this is a goal to reach that Neil knew he could not make. Perhaps Mr. Keating knew the extreme impact that this quote had on Neil, he was the only one to read this passage out loud throughout the entire film. It is the first hidden message Keating gives Neil and that Neil eventually returns to Keating.

Besides the conflict, the messages, the depth of characters, and the overall plot of the film. One can appreciate that great conflict can be made without the major advancements of today’s technology. Like Christopher Nolan and his lacking usage of CGI and digital technology over real-life props and old-school film reels. Dead Poets Society strives to be different from traditional beliefs and make such a lasting impact on the world without the need for the amazing technology that we see in the blockbusters of today. How often do we see a simple set in Delaware become an Oscar-winning film and three-time nominee? Not very often. We also must be amazed by the lacking of tradition that this film shows as it’s lead star Robin Williams was able to make this film his own by improving an amazing 15% of his own lines. Striving to be different was not only a goal of the characters of the film but of the film’s crew itself. The boys who played students in the film lived together to bond and also studied movies, music, and radio of the 1950’s to better play their role. Then, of course, Mr. Keating’s teachings to be yourself and truly amazing people. There are several reasons why this film reached such great success and will be a long remembered film of our time as will Robin Williams.

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Works Cited

“15 Facts About Dead Poets Society.” Mental Floss, 3 Feb. 2015, mentalfloss.com/article/59232/15-facts-about-dead-poets-society.

2 thoughts on “Dead Poets Society: Analysis”

  1. This is one of those rare timeless movies. It can effect us at different points in our lives. When I first saw it I was in a different place. It didn’t reach me as much as it does now.

    For me, Williams death has a lot to do with how I see this movie. Both the character and the actor were fighting battles they knew they couldn’t win.

    The movie was a perfect example of life imitating art.

    Excellent write up on this. Thanks!!!

    Like

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