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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Current Movie Review-Dead Poets Society

Read my latest review of one of my favorite classic Robin Williams flicks. A young Ethan Hawke is outstanding as well!

This month I decided to do a classic movie review, honoring one of my favorites, Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams and a very young Ethan Hawke. My teenage children love this film too, probably because of its timeless story of parental oppression during the high school years when adult independence is just beginning to take root. It’s a theme that all of us are very familiar with, despite the love and support of caring parents. At some point, all of us must make the choice to follow our God-given passions and desires, even if they are very different from what our mothers or fathers had planned. And then of course, there is Robin Williams.

I would rank this film, along with Mrs. Doubtfire, and Good Will Hunting, as one of my favorite Robin Williams movies, because it provides the perfect combination of funny and serious. No one can match Williams’ quick wit and zany impressions that are enhanced by his kooky grin and unusual looks. He’s still adorable in my opinion.

Part of the timelessness of this movie is the setting. It takes place in the 50s, at an all-male New England prep school where over eighty percent of the graduates end up in Ivy League schools. It’s about as close as the US can get to English aristocracy, and the expectation of the parents who send their sons to these schools is nothing less than good, old-fashioned American royalty: attend the finest universities in the land, major in business, law, or medicine, marry the “right” girl, and settle down to a successful and lucrative life that repeats itself generation after generation. All is well and good until Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating, a very unconventional English literature teacher, joins the faculty. Once a bit of a hell-raiser in his school-boy days, he is an accomplished teacher whose methods are a little different from the norm of a posh prep school.

Besides Ethan Hawke (who plays Todd Anderson), there are three other main characters who provide the structure for the story. All are wonderful actors, but sadly none of them have risen to great heights in the film industry. I especially liked Gale Hansen (who plays Charlie Dalton) and Josh Charles (who plays Knox Overstreet – now seen in The Good Wife on TV). Robert Sean Leonard (who plays Neil Perry) was a bit of heartthrob in his day (now seen in House MD). Only Williams and Hawke have remained on the Hollywood A-list. Regardless of their lack of movie star success, the cast is a great one, and provides a wonderful combination of bad boy, intellectual, brooding deep thinker, and emotional romantic, all of which play well against Williams’ unique humor. This nice choice of actors is another reason the film is so appealing.

The story is beautifully told, starting with Keating introducing his students on the first day of class to the art of poetry. He takes everyone out to the trophy cases where portraits of former students line the shelves, their time for glory having long past. The message Keating gives them is Carpe Diem, which is Latin for “seize the day.” He encourages them to make the most of the life given to them, to make it extraordinary. As the boys lean in to examine the faces of those who have passed through the same halls years before, Keating whispers Carpe Diem in a haunting whisper that sets the tone for the entire movie. In that one scene, the viewer knows something exciting, yet tragic is about to unfold, and these boys’ lives will be forever changed by it.

Williams’ humor is exquisite; it a wonderful blend of mimicry and witty encouragement that gives the boys the strength to step outside the school’s stiff norms and rules and think for themselves, to examine life from a place of passion and romance and not just the practicality of career and money. I loved how he had them rip out the introduction in their poetry text book and tear it with great vigor, chastising the pompous words espoused by a dry, unimaginative academic. It’s these kinds of wonderful teachers that make such an impact in our lives.

The movie picks up steam when the boys learn that Keating had once been part of the Dead Poets Society, a clandestine group that embraced this line of passionate free thinking, much to the disapproval of the school’s administration. Encouraged by the message of Carpe Diem, the boys decide to resurrect the Dead Poets Society, using Keating’s old book of poetry as inspiration. But when the boys’ newfound courage oversteps the bounds and wanders into rebellion, trouble awaits. Good intentions turn to tragedy and the pressure to conform becomes stronger than ever.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, be prepared for a major tear-jerker plot point that sends the boys on a downward spiral and causes Keating to lose his job. I remember being very moved by the injustice of parental oppression that dictates career choices without any consideration to individual skills, talents, or most importantly, desires. Some kids aren’t strong enough to stand up to the pressures placed on them and so they succumb to depression and suicide. We read about these sad cases every day, wondering what could have been said or done to render a different outcome. This movie suggests letting a child follow their God-given passions and let life unfold as it is supposed to. That is a very good message for every parent.

Dead Poets Society is a classic film with an uplifting ending that will endure for years to come as an excellent, quality movie with a touching message. It is a timeless tale that appeals to the hearts of all generations. It makes us laugh and cry, but most importantly, it makes us think and consider. Are we living the life God has intended for us? If not, then Carpe Diem, seize the day! Let’s be like Todd Anderson and his friends and embrace the boldness of the Professor Keatings of the world, insisting on living an extraordinary life! It’s never too late…

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