TBT: Dead Poets Society (1989)


As if this wasn’t going to happen you guys. . .

This is the perfect combination of fitting in with this month’s sort-of-theme (going back to school, woo!) and the ongoing tribute to one of my favorite performers of all time. We now have an opportunity to crack into what many of us probably hold dear to our hearts as one of the most touching Robin Williams performances. Though I doubt many grade-school classes have collectively taken a stand up on their desks in protest of their “oppressive teachers” and “unreasonable course loads,” few and far between are the folks who haven’t at least wanted to. Try coming across someone who hasn’t at some point quoted a line from  

Today’s food for thought: Dead Poet’s Society


Carpe-ing the diem since: June 2, 1989


Somewhere out there is a teacher I am indebted to for introducing me to this film. I am a little embarrassed I can’t remember in what class I watched this, but I’m so fortunate that was the environment in which it was brought to my attention because I’m not typically drawn to school dramas, even with a name like Robin Williams in it. I’m fairly sure this would have been a title I might have avoided had it not been for the chance encounter in an English class.

Perhaps not. Inevitability might have had the final say on that, for Peter Weir’s ode to the fleeting nature of boyish idealism and romantic notions of challenging the status quo is a difficult one to avoid, and turned out to be so unlike the eponymous club of the initiated. Its influence has been ever-widening, like ripples in a pond gradually encompassing everything within its borders. One thinks of inspirational films, and good chance this title is one of the first five or ten that come to mind.

There were no rites of passage in getting to know William’s John Keating. Taking him into our hearts was a most natural transformation. His passionate, colorful and off-beat approach to educating his students — nay, enlightening them — was what made this film crackle to life, what made this place worth tolerating if you could take his words and make them apply to your own place in the universe.

“Tradition. Honor. Discipline. Excellence.” The four pillars of education echoed monotonously off physical ones, drowning in the catacombs of this most unholy of institutions. Attending a school like the stiff Walton Academy for Boys for even a single semester was more than enough time to become jaded, enough time for one’s skin to toughen to the point of becoming brittle in response to a cruel and demanding world built by dedicated workers, not daydreamers. After all, boys won’t be boys for long, and outside the walls of the prep academy lay a laundry list of matters of pressing urgency that demanded focus and seriousness of purpose. In the short term this necessarily implied preening one’s self for the pristine Ivy Leaguers. After that, perhaps careers of distinguished but quiet fame.

Dead Poets Society is written beautifully, weighing the values of traditional, old-school practicality against the inexplicable urgency of youth and individuality. The passion that threatened to tear the two conventions apart rightfully secured the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1990. Beyond bullish headmaster Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd) and the parade of tenured graybeards roaming the Academy’s hallways — threatening, as always, with a paddle to beat the next free-thinking so-and-so into submission — notions of conformity and obedience extended to peripheral characters such as Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), in effect blanketing this 1950s scene in a snowdrift of almost inescapable bleakness. To a lesser extent, meek and mild Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) came from a well-to-do household that ultimately becomes divided over the John Keating situation. His situation was far less severe than Neal Perry’s, but it helped paint a bigger picture, a society still clinging on to old values in whatever way it could.

The harsh environs no doubt enhanced this newcomer’s rejuvenating presence. Not just because of Williams, but because the character was such a departure from everything these young and wide-eyeds had known; a much-needed warmth to melt away the layers of permanent frost this isolated community was erstwhile entrenched. I feel we’ve been indebted to the great Robin Williams in the same way I want to tell that teacher I owe him or her one. This experience is certainly one for the books.

4-0Recommendation: A film with little urgency for me to recommend. You’ve either caught this in class (or slept through it, who knows), or on television at some point, surely. An immensely popular film for all the right reasons, Dead Poets Society managed to capture the fleeting essence of boyhood developing into manhood in an era where tolerance for deviating from the norm was more frowned upon than encouraged. Packed to the brim with memorable and inspiring quotes, the film I recommend without restraint as your next Robin Williams adventure if you haven’t seen it already.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 128 mins.

TBTrivia: The irony in Robert Sean Leonard’s character’s struggles here are not lost upon dedicated viewers of the hit TV drama House, wherein Leonard plays one of the heartbeats in Dr. James Wilson, perhaps the only legitimate friend of the ornery Dr. Gregory House. Here, Neal Perry battles with his no-nonsense father about a career in acting, though his father demands he attend medical school. A request that comes at a price of tragic proportions.

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Photo credits: http://www.wallpaperpulse.com; http://www.imdb.com 

19 thoughts on “TBT: Dead Poets Society (1989)

    • Cheers, DPS was pretty much an obligation. Hahah I think to many people it’s “the” Robin Williams role, although he’s really got so many great ones.

      It really dawned on me after doing this how many others of his, classics from what I understand, I haven’t seen yet. Whoops.


      • Teehee, it is alright, we all have those few movies that we have missed completely over the years. This is great though, you get to see a whole load of movies you are unfamiliar with.


  1. Superb film and a superb review! I want to watch this one again…but it all just seems too heavy right now, you know? I’ll watch it after some more time, I’m sure. Seriously, how did he not when an Oscar for this???


  2. I’ve actually one seen the first half of this – one of the perils of watching it in school, when classes were an hour long. Fine work Tom, definitely need to check the full movie out.



    • Ack! Yeah there’s definitely a few snags with watching this in classes hhaha. Fortunately we managed to break it up over the course of a couple days and watched it in its entirety. Too bad you’ve only seen it piece-wise thus far, but you should get back to it for sure. It’s a wonderful experience. Just the kind of films I love, at the very least. We have pretty similar taste, I feel. 🙂


  3. It goes without saying buddy, but this is a great post. This film has gone through the mill; at first lauded then lambasted, now loved again. A classic movie stands the test of time.


    • I am glad I don’t much recall a time where this movie was bashed a lot, but I would believe it Mark! There’s a certain element of cheesiness or two-pat perfection with the way the students rebel at the end but if you ask me, it all adds up to one mesmeric and extraordinarily well-acted experience. I love DPS. A classic indeed does stand the test of time. Well said


  4. Hey Tom, that’s a great read – cheers! You’ve really nailed the essence of this film in my humble opinion. The famous “O Captain! My Captain” scene at the end is one of my favourites in any film – just thinking about it 20-odd years after first seeing it is always enough on its own to give me the goosebumps. One of Robin Williams’s best performances. I’m really due a re-watch!!!


    • Thanks ever so kindly Stu. I just had to include some of those more iconic moments here, and figured that video clip would be the best way. I appreciate you enjoying this piece, for me this is quite a personal experience as I have held the tenants of good writing close to my heart for awhile (although I often ignore them in my own writing haha). I love this movie so much. Its’ good to see the passion is mutual with so many.


  5. Great review, Tom. This was one of those first films I watched in school that I actually paid attention to and didn’t fall asleep or zone out and it has since really stuck with me. It’s one of my favorite movies of ’89 (a great year for movies) and features such great performances from Williams, Hawke, and Robert Sean Leonard. THAT ENDING! And yes, Williams is the teacher I want to be, have, know, etc.


    • I’m really glad to know our passions for this movie are on the same level. 🙂 Although I was also introduced to it in a school setting I’m so glad I was. That’s the place you can’t really run or hide from anything, as crappy as some of the movies I was shown in school there was still no way out. But this was such a great example of why watching movies in school both serves as a nice distraction for restless kids as well as an educational experience.

      The virtues touted by this movie really are inspirational. And if that’s cliche, I think that’s largely because of what this movie did!! Cheers man


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