"DEAD POET’S SOCIETY"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Robin Williams as JOHN KEATING
Robert Sean Leonard as NEIL PERRY
Ethan Hawke as TODD ANDERSON
Josh Charles as KNOX OVERSTREET
Gale Hansen as CHARLIE DALTON
Dylan Kussman as RICHARD CAMERON
Allelon Ruggiero as STEVEN MEEKS
James Waterston as GERARD PITTS
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Directed by: Peter Weir
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I was the perfect age for “Dead Poet’s Society” when it came out. The film was originally released in 1989, right when I was starting my senior year in high school. It became a phenomenon among my friends. We were all looking ahead towards college, and many of the kids I knew suffered great pressure from their parents to fulfill their dreams.
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Of course, things weren’t nearly as bad for us as it was for the kids in the film. I grew up in a nice suburb, but we all attended the local high school, and more kids were sent off to Miami of Ohio rather than Harvard or Yale. Still, I knew plenty about kids who were pressured beyond their own desires.
The only problem is that I never saw “Dead Poet’s Society” when it came out. I knew about it. I was familiar with the term “Carpe Diem.” But I never actually saw the film in the theatres. I’m not sure what the reason was, but it probably had to do with the fact that the summer of 1989 saw the releases of “Batman,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Lethal Weapon 2.” Those films were more my speed than a coming-of-age movie that took place in the 1950s.
Still, I caught the movie on videotape while I was in college, and I was impressed. It touched me deeper then than it does now, simply because I was closer to that age. I could relate better in my teens. I was fortunate to have parents that didn’t have me chasing their dreams but, as I said earlier, I knew plenty of boys in this situation.
As an adult, looking back on the film now with its Special Edition DVD release, I feel more removed from the story. It’s still a great film, but in some ways I now identify more with Robin Williams’ character of John Keating. As adults, we should always try to do things different. We don’t want to not challenge kids, but we want to broaden their horizons and encourage them to follow their own dreams.
“Dead Poet’s Society” tells the story of a group of boys in a high-class boarding school. They encounter a new teacher named John Keating (Williams), who isn’t the kind to do things by the book. He teaches literature, and instead of having them learn the boring angle, he challenges them to expand their minds and look at life with a new perspective.
Keating also exposes the kids to an old club – the Dead Poet’s Society. When Keating was a student, he led this group, who would steal away to a cave on the campus and read poetry. However, as Keating opens the boys’ minds, he steps on some toes. In particular, he encourages one of the students to follow his dream of being an actor rather than becoming a doctor like his father. The results become tragic.
I’ve never been a fan of poetry myself, but I understand the passion that can be found in life. I understand the importance of seizing the day. Part of what makes “Dead Poet’s Society” so great is that it challenges you to think. It can inspire you to be more than a simple cog in a wheel.
The movie has its tragic moments and its uplifting ones as well. Williams received his second best actor nod by the Academy, and this was as deserved as his first for “Good Morning Vietnam.” However, “Dead Poet’s Society” allowed him to be seen as a serious dramatic actor rather than a comedian, and it became a turning point in William’s career.
The special edition DVD includes a commentary by director Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman. There are also spotlights on the sound of the movie, featuring David Lynch and Peter Weir, as well as cinematography in which Seale recreates the lighting of a scene for a workshop. Finally, there is a very telling retrospective of the film with Weir and several actors.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) – Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French language track. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.