Dead Poets Society (1989)

He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary.

At an elite, old-fashioned boarding school in New England, a passionate English teacher inspires his students to rebel against convention and seize the potential of every day, courting the disdain of the stern headmaster.

Carpe Diem & The Punk Rock Movie.
Dead Poets Society is directed by Peter Weir (Picnic At Hanging Rock/Gallipoli) and stars Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Kurtwood Smith, Gale Hansen & Norman Lloyd. The script is written by Tom Schulman, based on his life at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee. The film is set in 1959 at the fictional Welton Academy in Vermont (location shoot from St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware). The story follows that of English teacher John Keating who uses his different method of teaching to inspire his students to be all that they can be whilst warning of the perils of conformity.
Dead Poets Society was a monster smash hit that made almost $220 million profit in Worldwide box office takings. Not bad considering this was the year that film lovers flocked to see the likes of Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and the third outing for one Indiana Jones. It showed that there was a mainstream market for serious drama if it is done well. And rest assured, Dead Poets Society is done well, very well in fact. Its launchpad is Schulman's Academy Award winning script that puts under the microscope educational conformity and the ogres that are parental and peer pressure. Enter the inspired casting of Robin Wiliams (nominated for BAFTA & Academy Award for Best Actor) as the teacher who urges his charges to see outside of the box that they have been placed in. Young men, soon to be full adults, who have their lives mapped out for them, are challenged by Mr Keating to be spontaneous, to pursue idealism and view life with new perspectives.
Coming two years after he was nominated for Good Morning Vietnam, Williams once and for all proves to his doubters that he is a quality dramatic actor. His Keating is charismatic but without the mad-cap histrionics that Williams is famed for. Very controlled, in that what is in essence a catalyst role, Keating hasn't rushed to become said catalyst. He's a constant sympathetic presence, a father figure type, yet a confidential friend too. That Schulman's script has avoided the usual clichés that come with teacher-student relations in film's helps Williams as an actor to breath intelligent life into Keating. Even the flecks of humour that Williams is allowed to work from, such as Brando doing Shakespeare, play with a warmth that's essential to the relationships forming in the piece. Tho it's unquestionably Williams' movie (the film soars when he is on screen), the young cast playing the students get an A + for their sensitive portrayals. Notably Robert Sean Leonard (heartfelt), Ethan Hawke (haunting) & Gale Hansen (punky). While Kurtwood Smith leaves an indelible image as a domineering father.
In the hands of Weir, the film, unsurprisingly to his fans, carries an air of mysticism too. Again working with one of his regular DOP's, John Seale, Weir knows how to capture the time, place and people in his movies; while cloaking them in dashes of mystical beauty. Be it the boys striding around the school grounds amidst autumnal hues, or plodding wearily thru the snowy terrain as Winter kicks in, Weir gives the scenes an apt poetic quality. It's also of note that these scenes, as well as the cave sequences where the Dead Poets Society meetings take place, blend with the characters emotional states. Sprightly and optimistic around the greenery, nervous and excited in the darkened cave, then heavy of heart and leg as the fall accompanies the emotionally turbulent last quarter. A last quarter that leads to what has now become a divisive ending. Some have (and will) come away from it irked and claiming it to be syrupy. Others such as myself find it uplifting, hopeful and a fitting end to the emotional roller-coaster that cast and crew have taken us on. Is your glass half full or half empty? An excellent and intelligent story is directed and acted accordingly, with its themes making it actually one of the best Punk Rock movies out there. 9/10

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV by Peter Weir, Tom Schulman.
Stars: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles.

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Keywords: individual philosophy poetry william shakespeare professor literature friendship teacher school play vermont schoolteacher preparatory school a midsummer night's dream 1950s

06/09/1989

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