The thrills of poetry once felt
By readers of past centuries,
The psalms at which the faithful knelt,
The ballads by the masters dealt,
The words that made romantics melt
Are now but dusty elegies
That men ignore and children tease.

Yet in the texts we only read
When college credit is attached
Are hymns of prisoned passion freed
And rhythmic rhymes still fun indeed
And lessons we will never heed
If we decide to stay detached
From lyric surfaces unscratched.

From Flanders Fields to Innisfree,
From Reading Gaol to Paul Revere,
No world is wide as poetry.
When hip diversions are debris
And dust of the next century,
I trust that poems will persevere,
To still inspire, haunt, and cheer.

MPAA rating: PG

For a guy with a poetry/movie blog, it boggles my mind that I did not see this movie sooner. It has “poet” in the title! Its screenplay won an Oscar! It has Robin Williams in dramatic mode! What’s wrong with me? The only thing I had to go on was a comment from my VC, who recalled seeing five minutes of it and decided it was boring. It may have slow moments, but now I know better (and so does she).

Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society takes place at the prestigious Welton Academy, where its founding principles of tradition, honor, discipline, and excellence are hailed early on by its headmaster (Norman Lloyd, or Dr. Auschlander from St. Elsewhere). A collection of teenage prep students quickly befriend each other in the dorms, and though I found it difficult to tell the boys apart at times, their characters are defined over time: the shy one (Ethan Hawke), the one with constant pressure from his strict father, the one with glasses, the tall one, the rebellious one, and the one with a crush on a girl at another school. Hawke, who plays Todd Anderson, has gone on to the most success, but all of the young actors excel. Despite its 1950s setting, I was reminded at times of another movie I ought to review, 1985’s The Breakfast Club; the relationships aren’t nearly as detailed or antagonistic, but moments of bonding strike a similar chord, especially when issues of parental and peer pressure come to the fore.

Of course, what these boys have that The Breakfast Club didn’t is a sympathetic teacher in John Keating (Williams), who remembers his own attendance at Welton well enough to understand his students better than the set-in-their-ways administrators. His unconventional methods take the students out of the classroom and challenge them to stand out, set their own pace, rip out fallacies, and “seize the day,” even encouraging them to re-form the titular Dead Poets Society. The club and the boys’ exploits carry the film well enough, but Williams becomes the star every time he’s on-screen. This, Good Will Hunting, and Awakenings just make me wish he’d done even more dramatic roles.

In following the story and its authoritarian critique to the bitter end, the film sadly doesn’t end on the most positive of notes. The final scene is inspiring and even more touching since Williams’ death, but the lives of the characters are left depressingly open. As much as I would have preferred a happier conclusion, Dead Poets Society is a testament to poetry, friendship, and the influence of a passionate teacher. It shines most in individual moments, like a brilliantly written vignette involving a desk set, and like Keating, dares us all to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” to “contribute a verse” to the “powerful play” of life.

Best line: (Keating) “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2016 S. G. Liput
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