Oscar Movie Month: "Dead Poet's Society" Review

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Neil Perry, Todd Anderson, Knox Overstreet, Charlie Dalton, Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks, and Gerard Pitts are senior students of the Welton Academy, an elite prep school, whose ethos is defined by the headmaster Gale Nolan as "tradition, honor, discipline and excellence".
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Rating: PG
Length: 128 minutes
Release Date: June 09, 1989
Directed by: Peter Weir
Genre: Drama

It is rare for a film to grip its viewers and inspire them in a way that leaves a lasting impression, but "Dead Poet's Society" does just that and more. In the strict Welton Academy for boys, a new English teacher encourages his students to think for themselves and seize the day. These teachings result in numerous consequences, including an unexpected tragedy. "Dead Poet's Society" brings viewers into the trapped minds of suppressed students until their world is gradually enlightened. This heart-warming tale offers standout performances from great actors, a well-paced plot and plenty of thought-provoking dialogue.

When the shy teenager Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) begins attending the Welton Academy for boys to meet the demands of his family, he soon meets his dorm mate Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) who is in a similar situation. Todd is expected to become a lawyer like his older brother, and Neil must become a doctor like his domineering father. On their first day of classes, Todd and Neil are surprised when they attend an English class taught by the newly hired Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). Their new teacher takes an unconventional approach, leading them out into the hallway and explaining that they have power. On the following days, Mr. Keating continues to teach the students in new ways, making them tear out a closed-minded portion of their textbook and telling them to stand on their desks to see the world from a new perspective.

When Neil discovers that Mr. Keating was part of the Dead Poet's Society while he was a student at the same academy, Neil, Todd and their friends ask their mentor about the mysterious club. Mr. Keating soon agrees to help the small group of students restart the Dead Poets Society, which meets at an abandoned cave and consists of mind-opening poetry readings. The boys of the Dead Poet's Society soon begin abusing their liberty by bringing girls into the cave, drinking and slandering the academy with a written bulletin. Meanwhile, rumors begin to spread among other teachers concerning Mr. Keating's teaching methods. Mr. Keating is disappointed with the group of students, but one member rekindles his hope when he decides to seize the day. When an unspeakable tragedy occurs, Mr. Keating and his students must stand firmly by their beliefs.

"Dead Poet's Society" deals with several important themes which largely drive the story and the characters' actions. The film tells viewers to avoid suppressing creativity and free thinking through conformity. It also embraces individualism and the power of each person to make his own decisions and impact others. These inspiring ideas are portrayed in a practical manner through the interactions between Keating and his students. Additionally, the constant battle between Keating and the rest of the school is symbolic of the unrelenting pressures of a conformist society on the individual.

Writer Tom Schulman and director Peter Weir create an entertaining, engaging film that combines witty dialogue with a well-paced story. The result is a fun movie that keeps viewers constantly craving for more. A perfect mixture of drama and humor keeps things interesting, and wide-ranging characters add greater depth to the story. Actors like Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard bring the film to life with top-notch performances. Willams shines as the liberal Mr. Keating, putting enough raw emotion and personality into his character to make viewers almost believe that Mr. Keating truly exists. The younger actors also hold their own as Keating's students, creating believable characters that instantly gain viewers' empathy. Every conflict between characters feels genuine and relevant, adding to the dramatic atmosphere of the film.

The film does have a few shortcomings, but these are quickly overshadowed by great acting and an engaging story. For instance, some of Mr. Keating's teachings seem to undermine the value of working hard to create great poetry, expressing that no poem is better than another. Also, the unfortunate events that happen near the end of the film, and the rebellious actions of the students, contradict the film's primary message of seizing the day.

Offering a heart-wrenching tale that preaches the necessity of seizing the day, "Dead Poet's Society" is undoubtedly one of the most important films of its time. No matter how many times viewers watch this movie, they are sure to come away inspired and provoked. Although the acting and storytelling in this film are top-notch, the value it brings to its viewers delves far deeper than entertainment. It provides just enough enlightenment to encourage viewers to live out the message in their own lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5