DEAD POETS SOCIETY

And what will your verse be in the poem of life?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden.)

Hands up folks, how many of us discovered Thoreau after having watched this movie? Really discovered I mean, regardless whether you had known he’d existed before. How many believe they know what Thoreau was talking about in that passage about “sucking the marrow out of life,” cited in the movie, even if you didn’t spend the next 2+ years of your life living in a self-constructed cabin on a pond in the woods? How many bought a copy of Whitman’s poems … whatever collection? (And maybe even read more than Oh Captain! My Captain!?) How many went on to read Emerson? Frost? Or John Keats, on whose personality Robin Williams‘s John Keating is probably loosely based? To many people, this movie has a powerful appeal like few others and has proven inspirational far above and beyond the effect of an ordinary movie experience. And justifiedly so, despite the fact that charismatic Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), one of the story’s main characters, tragically falters in the pursuit of his dreams, in the wake of apparent triumph. Because although Neil’s story is one of failure, ultimately this film is a celebration of the triumph of free will, independent thinking and the growth of personality; embodied in its closing scene.

Of course, lofty goals such as these are not easily achieved. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) in particular, the last scene’s triumphant hero, is literally pushed to the edge of reason before he learns to overcome his inhibitions. And Thoreau warned in Walden: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Anyone who takes this movie’s message to heart (and Thoreau‘s, and Whitman’s, and Emerson’s, Frost’s and Keats’s) knows that success too easily won is often no success at all, and most important accomplishments are based on focus, tenacity and hard work as much as anything else. And prudence, too – dashing Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) pays a terrible price for his spur-of-the-moment challenges of authority; although of course you just gotta love him for refusing to sign Keatings’ indictment. “Carpe diem” – live life to its fullest, but also know what you are doing. You won’t enjoy this movie if you are afraid of letting both your mind and your feelings run free.

Shot on the magnificent location of Delaware’s St. Andrews Academy, Dead Poets Society is visually stunning, particularly in its depiction of the amazingly beautiful scenery (where the progression of the seasons mirrors the progression of the movie’s story line), and as emotionally engaging as it invites you to reexamine your position in life. Robin Williams delivers another Academy Award-worthy performance (he was nominated but unfortunately didn’t win). Of course, Robin Williams will to a certain extent always be Robin WilliamsAladdin‘s Genie, Good Morning Vietnam‘s Adrian Cronauer and Good Will Hunting‘s Professor McGuire (the 1997 role which would finally earn him his long overdue Oscar) all shimmer through in his portrayal of John Keating; and if you’ve ever seen him give an interview you know that the man could go from hilarious and irreverent to deeply reflective in a split second even when it wasn’t a movie camera that was rolling. Yet, the black sheep among Welton Academy’s teachers assumes as distinct and memorable a personality as any other one of Williams‘s film characters.

Of its many Academy Award nominations (in addition to Robin Williams‘s nomination for best leading actor, the movie was also nominated in the best picture, best director [Peter Weir] and best original screenplay categories), Dead Poets Society ultimately only won the Oscar for Tom Schulman’s script. But more importantly, it has long since won it’s viewers’ lasting appreciation, and for a reason. – As the Poet said: “Camerado! This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man” (Walt Whitman, So Long!), this is no movie; who watches this, watches himself!

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1989)
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Producers: Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • Screenplay: Tom Schulman
  • Music: Maurice Jarre
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
  • Casting: Howard Feuer
Cast
  • Robin Williams: John Keating
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Neil Perry
  • Ethan Hawke: Todd Anderson
  • Josh Charles: Knox Overstreet
  • Gale Hansen: Charlie Dalton
  • Dylan Kussman: Richard Cameron
  • Allelon Ruggiero: Steven Meeks
  • James Waterston: Gerard Pitts
  • Norman Lloyd: Mr. Nolan
  • Kurtwood Smith: Mr. Perry
  • Carla Belver: Mrs. Perry
  • Leon Pownall: McAllister

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1990)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Tom Schulman
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 100 Inspiring Films: No. 52
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 95th: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
National Board of Review Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Top Ten Films of 1989: No. 6
Political Film Society (USA) (1990)
  • Democracy Award
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1989)
  • BAFTA Film Awards, Best Film: Peter Weir / Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • BAFTA Film Awards; Best Original Film Score: Maurice Jarre
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1990)
  • Top Box Office Films: Maurice Jarre
Golden Screen (Germany) (1991)
  • Golden Screen
Jupiter Awards (Germany) (1990)
  • Best International Film: Peter Weir
  • Best International Actor: Robin Williams
Guild of German Art House Cinemas (1991)
  • Guild Film Award – Gold, Ausländischer Film (Foreign Film): Peter Weir
César Awards (France) (1991)
  • Meilleur film étranger (Best Foreign Film)
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1990)
  • Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Film)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Regista del Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Director): Peter Weir
Online Film & Television Association (USA) (2015)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame, Motion Picture
Artios Awards (Casting Society of America) (1990)
  • Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama: Howard Feuer
Young Artist Awards (USA) (1990)
  • Best Motion Picture, Drama

 

Links

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “DEAD POETS SOCIETY

  1. Manuel Antao says:

    I’ve been avoiding re-watching this movie for as long I can rememeber. I remember the impression it made on me at the time. I’m afraid ‘Dead Poet’s’ to be one of those films that, seen at the right point in your life, is wonderful, but outside of it seems a little threadbare and sappy? Those of us old enough to have had our youthful idealism bruised by reality might find it somewhat naive and simplistic. That’s why I haven’t seen it since. I prefer my memories untainted…

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThemisAthena says:

      It’s more than memories to me. That movie expresses the whole credo of my life — even before I’d first seen it, but certainly and even more so thereafter. I wrote this review some 14 years ago, with the best and the worst of my experience in the U.S. fresh under my belt — and knowing that I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t made the decision to quit my job in Germany and go for that degree in the U.S. several years earlier.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Manuel Antao says:

        Sometimes some decisions in our lifes are influenced by tiny things…I remember the movie, “Sliding Doors”, I think it was called. It never fails to fascinate me. I keep thinking if I hadn’t done this and that, this and that wouldn’t have happened…and we of course get to be different persons. It’s those choices that make us what we truly are.

        Liked by 1 person

    • ThemisAthena says:

      I actually didn’t — every self-respecting fan of the Eagles, and of Don Henley in particular, couldn’t fail to be aware of Thoreau’s writings due to Henley’s dedication and commitment to preserving Thoreau’s Walden Woods. Thoreau’s writings did play a major part, however, along with this movie, in my decision to move to the U.S. (talk about lasting influence of a movie — I made that decision several years after having first seen “Dead Poets Society.”

      Like

  2. stewartry says:

    “This is no movie; who watches this, watches himself!”

    For me, this was almost literal. I did everything you said – investigated the poets and learned the quotes – but for me the most important aspect of seeing this movie was that quote there. I first saw it when I was about the same age as the boys. And Todd Anderson was me. In that pre-internet time it was the first time I really had proof that there were other people like me out there, extreme introverts (and shy as well, which as I learned from Susan Cain’s “Quiet” is not the same). I never had a Mr. Keating of my own, so the movie meant that much more. I don’t know if I’d say it changed my life, but – it impacted it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThemisAthena says:

      I totally get what you’re saying — the likeness wasn’t quite as close for me, but this movie directly impacted my decision to give up everything I already had in Germany (which many would have argued was a lot) and go for an additional degree in the U.S. Carpe diem indeed — you only have this one life, after all, so you might as well make the most of it!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s