"Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!"
It is 1959 and the prestigious Welton Academy has just hired John Keating (Robin Williams) as the new English teacher for the upcoming school year. A Blithe Spirit, he uses his classes to inspire his students to go against the flow and be themselves, somehow managing to make reading poetry seem like a cool, rebellious thing to do. A group of the boys, including Todd Anderson, Neil Perry, Charlie Dalton, Knox Overstreet, Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks and Gerard Pitts, form the Dead Poets Society, a group wherein they all sneak out at night to read poetry in a secluded cave. After witnessing many of Keating's unorthodox teaching methods and the effects on the students, Headmaster Nolan, the Dean Bitterman of Welton, tries to put a stop to this.Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams in one of his earlier "serious" roles. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards: Robin Williams for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Picture and winning for Best Original Screenplay.
Bad Liar: For a skilled actor, Neil certainly isn't all that convincing when he tries to tell a lie. It doesn't even look like Keating believed him when Neil claimed that his father was letting him stay in the play.
Bittersweet Ending/ Downer Ending: Neil commits suicide to escape his abusive parents, Mr. Keating is the scapegoat and fired and Charlie gets expelled for defending him. The Dean Bitterman Mr. Nolan takes over teaching his class, but in the last minute over half his class proves to Mr. Keating they will see the world in new ways, they will challenge authority, and he will not be forgotten.
Calling the Old Man Out: Neil's father is extremely controlling and dominating, and at one point he starts to call him on never listening to his own son or showing any interest in what he wants to do with his life, but he can't follow through and he gives up halfway.
Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Neil's father doesn't want Neil to have anything to do with poetry or theatre, and upon discovering that Neil is playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he goes utterly ballistic. He sends Neil to a military academy, but he is Driven to Suicide before he can be shipped off.
Foreshadowing: If you look at it a certain way, the ghost story Neil tells earlier in the film is a metaphor for his own suicide. More directly, at the beginning of the first meeting when Neil reads the passage from Thoreau: ...and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four main Poets could be considered this: Todd is melancholic, Neil is sanguine, Charlie is choleric and Knox is phlegmatic.
The Friend Nobody Likes: Cameron basically only gets included in the Society because he's part of the other boys' study group and is Charlie's roommate.
Neil: Hey, he's your roommate. Charlie: That's not my fault.
Justified, as it's obvious they wouldn't have included him if they had any hope to hide the Society from him, calling him a creep. And he betrays them in the end.
Hope Bringer: According to the director, Keating is in a severe depression after Neil's suicide and the one thing that brings him out of it is the boys standing up for him.
I Am Spartacus: Deconstructed in the end scene. "One more outburst from you, or anybody else, and you're out of this school! Leave, Mr. Keating. I said leave, Mr. Keating." Keating opens the door, begins to walk out. "Oh Captain, my captain!" "Sit down, Mr. Anderson. You hear me? Sit down. Sit down! This is your final warning, Anderson! Again... How dare you?" "Oh Captain, my captain!" "Mr. Overstreet, I warn you! Sit down! Sit down! Sit down. All of you. I want you seated. Sit down. Leave, Mr. Keating. All of you, down. I want you seated. Do you hear me? Sit down!"
It Amused Me: Is there anything that Charlie says or does which is not simply intended to have fun?
Ivy League: The aspiration of most of the Welton students — the school takes quite particular pride in stating that many of its graduates went on to study at schools that belonged to the very prestigious Ivy League.
Jerkass Has a Point: Keating's antics don't go over well with the school administration and teachers. He has at least two conversations about this during the course of the film. While the audience is set up to believe their adherence to tradition and conformity are a bad thing, both conversations drive the point home. "Free thinkers at seventeen? Teach them to learn and the rest will follow." A prep school education is designed to send the young men on to college, and trying to be an artist will only end in disappointment.
Jerk Jock: Chet. Which of course leads to problems when Knox falls head-over-heels for the former's girlfriend.
Karma Houdini: It would have been nice to see Neil's father get called out for driving his son to suicide.
Large Ham: Charlie has his moments, and is clearly enjoying himself at the line "To indeed be a god!"
Love at First Sight: Knox, Knox, Knox. One-sided as the object of his affections is "practically engaged" to someone else.
Meaningful Name: It couldn't have been coincidence that John Keating is a lover of poetry. As well as being close to John Keats, the -ing suffix usually implies a verb or an action. Thus, he's a more active John Keats by teaching poetry.
Military School: Neil is threatened with this by his controlling and dominating father.
Performance Anxiety: Todd has a rather severe case of this, leading to initial reluctance to join the Dead Poets Society, since he thinks it will mean having to read aloud in front of other people. Fortunately Neil insists that he doesn't have to read, and lets him take meeting minutes instead.
Keating knows all too well that Todd has this, and still gets him to come up with a poem impromptu, resulting in a Moment Of Awesome for Todd.
Pretentious Latin Motto: The official motto. The unofficial one, student-written, is somewhat modified, shall we say.
Rebellious Spirit: Charlie's actions make for an interesting contrast with what Keating actually encourages. While the latter is trying to teach his students to think for themselves and be masters of their own lives, the former takes that to mean "rebel for its own sake, fight against authorities for fun." When Charlie nearly gets himself expelled for a joke, Keating calls him out on this misinterpretation.
Still, when he "exercises the right not to walk" during the strolling lesson, Keating notes that he righteously "illustrated the point" by "swimming against the stream". Charlie may not actually misinterpret him but simply over-interpret. See also It Amused Me.
Satellite Love Interest: Chris for Knox, to an extent. Through no fault of her own, though, she just doesn't get much character development onscreen and is only really loved by Knox for her appearance. She even points this out to him when she goes to confront him at Welton, replying to his repeated insistence that he loves her, "You don't even know me!"
Shrinking Violet: Oh, Todd. At the beginning, at least, he seems to just be trying to blend in with the wallpaper half the time. Fortunately his friendship with the other Poets (Neil in particular) goes a long way toward making him a more confident person.
Silly Walk: Keating encourages each student to find his own walk, some of which are rather silly. One even exercises his right to not walk.
Snow Means Death: Symbolised by Neil's friends walking through snow after Neil kills himself.
Stalker with a Crush: Knox, in regards to Chris. Well-intentioned, but watching her from afar wearing dark glasses can come off as slightly creepy.
Stupid Sacrifice: Neil's suicide. Aside from his dad being controlling the relationship is not otherwise abusive. Sure, maybe he has to do what his Dad says now, but in a few years he'll be an adult and can do whatever the hell he wants, and he'll never be able to become an actor if he's dead. And isn't suicide kind of the opposite of what the motto "Carpe diem" calls for? Then again, that is depression for you—convincing you that there's no other way out.
Thousand-Yard Stare: Neil after the play and his father crushing his dream, just before he kills himself.
Tragic Bromance: Neil and Todd could count although they're both main characters. They are particularly close and share an intense friendship, and Neil's death clearly has a deep impact on his roommate.