All the Times 'Dead Poets Society' Gave Us Hope
All the feels we felt and lessons we learned from this beloved Robin Williams film.
Any real lover of poetry and literature would be hard-put not to love the beloved 1989 film Dead Poets Society. And if you loved Robin Williams (meaning, if you're an actual human being living in the world today), you'll have an even harder time.
Despite any and all criticisms it may have received upon first being released, I've always seen the film as one of those utterly perfect pieces of cinema that enable the viewer to immerse themselves in another world. Not only does DPS do this, but it transports us to another time, another place – and enables the viewer to take with them what they've learned.
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love that special category of films for their ability to instill in a viewer this often tenuous takeaway. What more could we ask for from our favorite films than such a poignant memorability?
What more could we ask for than to hear such a powerful statement so loud and crystalline clear that we remember them in the context of our own lives and inner realities, whatever dramas and wishes and urges and dreams and great loves and yes, even ordinary commonplace things that may entail?
And I'd also be lying if I said that the film didn't give me hope – for the world and also in the pursuit of my own private passions. With that being said, here are all the things I learned, all the feels I felt, and all the times Dead Poets Society instilled in me that sense of hope.
When Robin Williams was the best, ever. Period.
…I want to cry just thinking about it.
When Professor Keating's character reminded us that inspiring teachers like this actually do exist.
To tell you the truth, the idea really just invigorates my soul. After all, Williams' character John Keating was actually based on screenplay writer Tom Schulman's own experience with two separate teachers. (And if you ask me, his character's name itself is in direct homage to the late, great Romantic poet John Keats.)
Keating's liberal teaching practices, eccentric perspective, and transcendentalist ideals may have been exaggerated for the purposes of the script, but it's nonetheless inspiring that there are still teachers out there who want nothing more than to impart the wisdom of free thinking upon their students.
If you ask me, it's the most moving and fully poignant message of the entire movie, and is only truly realized in the scene at the very end when the boys recite "Oh Captain, My Captain," as Keating leaves the classroom. But don't let me get ahead of myself here.
When their teacher made the boys fall in love with poetry and literature.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Please remember to immerse yourself in real literature every so often. This is so important.
Every single time Keating alludes to Whitman, Thoreau, and any of the other "biggies" he refers to throughout the film – and ESPECIALLY when he tells the boys they may call him "Oh Captain, My Captain," if they dare – it sends a little thrill up my spine. That people (well, outside of former English majors and those with professions in the sadly and slowly rotting humanities), still care. That despite this, there is still a very real love of literature still present in the world. And that our society has not yet forgotten that which these powerfully talented men sought to express so long ago.
And yes, when Keating quotes from Henry David Thoreau's Walden, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," in an all-too-knowing tone, plot device or not, anyone watching can't help but fall in love with those words – for the first time, or all over again.
So maybe Neil and Todd's recreation of the Dead Poets Society club isn't actually in homage to the poetry itself, but more so to woo women as Keating speaks of, and to give a big fat middle finger to the restrictive views of their parents and preppy Vermont boarding school, but can you blame them for trying?
When he stood on a desk and told the boys to "seize the day."
This moment is a not-so-gentle reminder not to ever let your dreams die. The passions that drive you, the goals and dreams that motivate you, the people and poems and books and places that you love.
And especially, especially the things you grow up dreaming of and curl up in bed to fall asleep thinking about. Those things you have continuously and ceaselessly wanted with such a sweet pain, almost like a toothache, for your entire life. You can never forget something you've wanted so badly for so long that you can't even imagine not having or achieving it one day.
So don't ever let those things stop lighting your heart up. Don't let them stop setting a fire in your bones. Don't lose them to the mundane melancholy of the real world. Don't ever let your private passions and fantasies and dreams die.
Dead Poets Society doesn't try to skate over the fact that for many people, giving up or passing over their dreams is a sad truth. For when Neil takes his own life, he is a sobering testament to that. And I will say that I often found myself wondering what Schulman thought of that twisted and very real irony after we lost Williams.
When his liberal teaching methods taught the students to look at life from a different perspective.
Ethan Hawke said of working with Robin Williams during the "barbaric yawp" scene (in reference, of course, to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass poetry collection), “That was the scene where I was supposed to read a poem in front of the class and it was the first time in my life that I ever experienced the thrill of acting and the thrill of losing yourself.
You know, there's this whole thing in the public that acting is this huge celebration of the personality and the ego, of course, and the irony is that whenever it's any good, it's devoid of ego. It's a high that I've chased my whole life since that day with Robin. It's this way of losing yourself, where you lose yourself inside a story, a story that's in service of something way beyond you. And I felt that in Dead Poets Society.”
So if you take nothing else from this, go carpe that fucking diem.
Because the truth is, no matter what happened – at the close of this inspired and inspirational film, or in reality – Keating was a visionary, and so was the actor who played him; and my love for Dead Poets Society will never waver.