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  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Did Nolan fire Keating after Neil's suicide because he honestly believed he was responsible for it? Was it an act of damage control to save the school's reputation? Or did he just use the incident as an excuse to get rid of him and his unorthodox teaching methods? Maybe some combination thereof?
    • Was Keating an irresponsible teacher for going against the school's values and rules despite the consequences, or was he doing the students a favor by trying to open their minds and broaden their perspectives?
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    • We are clearly supposed to hate Neil’s Dad. Yes he is very demanding and controlling. But bear in mind that when he was Neil‘s age it would’ve been right at the start of the Great Depression. Neil states at one point that his family is not as wealthy as most of the other kids and his dad points out that he never had the opportunities that Neil does. So in other words he probably had to work very hard to provide a decent life for his family and would like to see future generations of the family live a good life as well. His father also probably fought in the war. So it is somewhat understandable that he doesn’t want everything he’s worked for ruined by Neil’s dream to be an actor.
  • Base-Breaking Character: Keating is a polarizing character. Some viewers feel Keating was an irresponsible teacher, encouraging the students to break the school rules when in so doing it could get them in trouble but would be unlikely to rebound on him and he tried to censor ideas that he didn't agree with, ripping out the book introduction. Others feel that the value of broadening the students' perspective and encouraging them to enter adult life with a different attitude than that endorsed by the school was in the long run worth the short-term risk of being disciplined by the school.
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  • Designated Villain: Principal Nolan has some of this, the movie setting him up as the uber-conformist, stuffy-conservative "Stop Having Fun" Guy opposite Mr. Keating's free-spirited Cool Teacher. While he is a jerk from time to time, most of the time he's just doing his job as principal of the school; the rest of the time, he's espousing beliefs or values that clash with the message of "Carpe Diem", which is hardly his fault. On the other hand, he clearly believes that the authoritarian structure of the school should be maintained, considers the ridiculous essay about drawing graphs to analyze poetry that Keating condemned as "excrement" to be "excellent" and disciplines Charlie for his silly prank by paddling him, although that was much more acceptable in the 1950s than it is now. Remember also that it is a boarding school and Mr. Nolan is not only responsible for them during class time, but during all other times as well. Anyone who has ever gone to a boarding school, even the most progressive ones, knows that they are very strict and everything you do is scrutinized.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
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    • Mr. Keating breaking down in tears after he discovers that Neil killed himself is a thousand times worse to watch since Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014. It also makes Mr. Keating's speeches about "carpe diem" and seizing the day before it's gone heartbreaking.
    • If the filmmakers had gone with What Could Have Been where Mr. Keating died of leukemia combined with dejection at the loss of Neil Perry, it might have been even more tear-jerking and tragic in retrospect with Robin Williams' suicide in 2014 and the students would have lost hope.
    • The film's final scene has Keating's students giving him a touching send-off, showing their appreciation for everything he's taught them. This is now almost impossible to watch without feeling like a send-off for Williams rather than his character. However, it can be considered Heartwarming in Hindsight, since they're showing how much he meant to them.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Ho Yay: Neil and Todd. It's virtual canon, to the point that most of the fanfiction circles on them.
  • It Was His Sled: Neil's death.
    • Keating gets fired because of it.
  • Memetic Mutation: The "carpe diem" speech got a lot of play on Tumblr in the wake of Robin Williams' death.
    • Not to mention "O, Captain! My Captain!"
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Neil's father driving his son to suicide, albeit inadvertently.
    • Cameron was always The Friend Nobody Likes, but selling out the whole club just to save his own skin?
  • Narm:
    • The Big "NO!" is ruined by the slow motion and Neil's father being played by Kurtwood Smith from That '70s Show. You can almost hear him screaming "NEIL, YOU DUMBASS!!!"
    • John Keating's name being... well, John Keating. The sheer level of Meaningful Name is rather laughable.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Those who watched House before seeing this movie might be surprised to see Wilson as a 17-year-old prep school student.
  • Signature Scene: The ending where the students stand on their desks to salute Keating.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Knox's character arc revolves around trying to win the heart of a pretty girl he met once and it is framed in a way where the audience is clearly supposed to root for him. Yet his method of courtship towards Chris involves kissing her on the forehead while she's sleeping, showing up unannounced at her school after that incident to recite poetry to her in front of her friends and then hounding her until she agrees to go on a date with him. Knox is supposed to be in a classic "nerd vs Jerk Jock" love story but he comes across as an aggressive creep who won't take "no" for an answer.
  • Values Dissonance: Knox kissing Chris on the head when she is sleeping at the party, as such an action is often a precursor to rape in such situations and fits the definition of sexual assault.
  • What Could Have Been: If Neil hadn't committed suicide and graduated from the military academy and Harvard, would he have turned out as grumpy and cynical as his father?
    • Even if Neil became a doctor, would he still have received any praise from his dad, or would his accomplishments be cynically dismissed?
  • The Woobie: Both Neil and Todd.

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