Reviews: Dead Poets Society
If you hate this movie at 20, you have no heart. If you believe it at 40, you have no brain.
While the review title is an exaggeration, how you percieve this movie will vary greatly on how old you are (personality-wise rather than by age alone). Younger people will probably identify with the protagonists' problems and enjoy the movie's message and energy, while older viewers will find the movie naive and trite. The movie is all about finding your place in the world and enjoying life to the fullest. Old, well-known messages, but the movie manages to pull it off without being too sappy and Robin Willams performs quite well as John Keating, adding life and humanity to what could have been a trite role. The "teacher who changes his students' lives" cliche can get old quickly, but the Dead Poets Society is a bit more complex than the average feel-good movie, even showing unfortunate consequences of Keating's teachings while still remaining idealistic at its core. Despite its qualities, however, the movie does not bring much new and some may dislike or be unimpressed by its vague and cliched messages. Be Yourself is hardly an eye-opening message to anyone above their teens and the behavior of Keating, the "quirky messianic teacher" of the movie, could just as easily be interpreted as useless and pretentious. This type of movie tends to rub teachers in particular the wrong way, as they know by experience how difficult teaching and instilling enthusiasm on a class can be. Ironically, many older people see the movie in the same way that older generations look upon teenagers, as foolish, confused and disregarding society's laws with no reason. Unfortunately, in both cases they misunderstand the reason behind this behavior, and fail to recognize the energy and value it has. Yes, the movie is slightly pretentious in announcing its tired old truths as if they were the secret to eternal happiness, and it also barely defines what to "suck the marrow of life" even means, agreed. But that does not mean its messages have no value. To summarize, it is a very "young" movie, slightly naive and foolish but it also a good reminder on the importance on self-discovery and enjoying life. It's funny how easy it is to forget simple things like these.
An exellent movie, that losses a bit due to Values Dissonance
Before watching Dead Poets Society in full I have catched many bits and pieces of it on TV throughout the years. By piecemeal it always seemed melodramatic and without substance to me. However upon seeing it as a whole I am confident to say that it is a terrific movie. The story is set in a New England all-boys boarding school during the fifties and begins with the arrival of two newcomers: Todd Anderson, living in the shadow of his valedictorian brother, and John Keating, a former model student of the same school who has returned to teach English Literature. Todds new roommate is the popular and friendly Neil. Together they spend most of their time with the boys from their study group: Knox, Charlie, Richard, Pitts and Meeks. After being taken in by Mr. Keatings unorthodox style of teaching poetry they dig up mentions of something called the Dead Poets Society, Keating reveals that it was a secret club founded by him and his contemporaries that focused on "sucking the marrow out of life." Impressed, the boys start their own incarnation of the club, meeting in the same cave that Keating and his friends used decades before. And so the boys all start out on their own journeys of self expression. As the previous reviewer proves- many modern parents of ADHD riddled children, exasperated teachers and good students who had to endure the antics of wannabe rebel delinquents in high-school- will see Keatons mentorship as a cliched attempt to rock the boat for no good reason and as propagating the trite message of "be yourself and everything will be just fine." This is not the case, as is well illustrated by the time Charlie goes rather blatantly and pointlessly against the school regime- and is promptly reprimanded by both the other Dead Poets and by Keating himself. And the boys are no slouches either in the academic department, all of them have pretty high grades and are well raised. What they rebel against are not the responsibilities of the adult world but the dictatorship of a generation of parents who have not yet learned that "their children are not their children." What Keaton teaches them is to be captains of their own souls and to be damned if they let anyone else hog the wheel.
Confusing message and characterisation mar its potential.
As a person with fair appreciation for both poetry and the acting talents of Robin Williams, I really thought I'd enjoy this film a lot more than I did. There were promising bits - the scenery was nice, and Neil's subplot was interesting. But there were flaws that, I found, overshadowed these - first and foremost, in my opinion, the frustrating combination of confusion and unlikability that defined Williams' character, which even the charm of his acting couldn't save. I mean, what the hell are we supposed to learn from Keating? To me, it seemed something like "if you're a high school teacher who disagrees with the academic approach of the prescribed textbook, debating it with the students or encouraging them to approach it critically is for wusses - just have them rip it up. Anyone who seems to disagree with this juvenile approach will later be characterised as a cowardly snitch". Or perhaps "it's a-okay to waste class time having your students run around the courtyard to teach them cheesy life lessons". In a time when we're lucky if we can get high school students to so much as attend class, let alone show some semblance of work ethic, I found this more than a little jarring. And then there was the faulty characterisation. We're supposed to hate Mr Nolan, but as far as I could tell, his worst crimes were being somewhat dour, disapproving of Keating's borderline anarchic teaching methods, and beating Charlie Dalton for being an insolent little twat (at least the film seemed to condemn his behaviour). Frankly, I felt sorry for the guy more than anything - running a high school's hard enough without having to deal with a bunch of students who sneak out at night to do stuff they should be doing in class. And as to the poetry - there wasn't much, was there? Yeah, for a film with 'Poets' in the title, this film had very little to do with poetry at all. There's a few quotes thrown in, and one vaguely interesting class exercise, but other than that, that lovely little aspect of culture is shoved into the background in favour of us getting to watch things like Knox's cheesy high-school-drama subplot. All in all, as much of a treat as Robin Williams always is, if you're looking for a film set in a quaint high school with a lot of poetry, you'd probably be better off going with something like The History Boys.