Dead Poets Society

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Director: Peter Weir.
Screenplay: Tom Schulman.
Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, James Waterston, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith, Melora Walters, Lara Flynn Boyle.

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”

Robin Williams was predominantly known for his hilarity and exuberant sense of fun before he finally started to show that he had acting chops. In 1987, he received an Oscar nomination for “Good Morning Vietnam” and then, two years later, followed that up with another Best Actor nomination for “Dead Poets Society“. To this day, this still stands as one of his most appealing characters and performances.

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Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) is sent to a school where his popular older brother was valedictorian. It’s here that he meets room-mate, Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) and many other bright young men, who have lots of potential but lack any real direction. That is, until they meet their new English teacher Professor John Keating (Robin Williams). He’s one of the few who sees the potential in them and encourages them to embrace life.

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Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.” These are the words that encapsulate this inspirational story about having a passion for – and “sucking the marrow out of…” – life. Professor Keating teaches in a very different and personal manner, quoting from such poets as Walt Whitman, Byron, Henry Thoreau and Robert Frost. He has a passion for what he teaches and shows a determination to instil that in his pupils. This passion also exudes onto the audience as we too, explore and enjoy the great writer’s and poet’s of our past and how rich and effective their words can be.

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Director Peter Weir draws on his own experiences of a boarding school education and Tom Schulman’s script (partly based on his experiences at an all-boys preparatory school he attended and his professor there, Samuel F. Pickering Jr.) exposes the rigidity within the walls of such an environment. It’s to their credit, though, that they manage to bring a sense of hope to education and the joy and expression that lies therein. Filled with many visual and verbal poetic moments, Weir’s film is at times both haunting and beautiful with gorgeous cinematography by John Seale and an effective music score by Maurice Jarre.

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There are also a whole host of very impressive performances from it’s young cast – an excruciatingly shy Ethan Hawke, being a particular standout. However, it all rests on the shoulders of Williams; he’s brilliant, with a very charismatic and heartfelt performance. He taps into his comic abilities, never over doing it and when he needs to deliver the dramatic weight, he does so with aplomb. You’re able to warm to him and be completely swept up in his infectious enthusiasm, in turn, allowing you to fully identify with his impressionable students.

At times the film can certainly be manipulative but, for the most part, it’s very memorable and delivers one of the most uplifting yet emotionally shattering movie endings I can remember.

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What more can you ask from a film that’s able to instil thought, raise a smile and even shed a tear? Weir, Williams and co. manage all of these things and for that reason, I too, would gladly stand on my desk with an agreeing nod of respect – “Oh, Captain, my Captain!

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Mark Walker

Trivia: To guide Williams, director Peter Weir called the character “Robin Keating” as he wanted the scripted character to be “shaded with 15 percent of Williams’ own off-the-cuff dialog”.

RIP Robin Williams (1951-2014)

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40 Responses to “Dead Poets Society”

  1. Nice review. I haven’t seen this for quite some time.

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  2. Nice review! This was a ‘back in time’ moment for me. I’ve seen it but a long time ago. So long in fact that I remember little about it. A rewatch may be in order!

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    • Cheers bro. I caught it on tv a few months ago after many, many years. That’s me just getting around to posting a review. It wasn’t quite as powerful as I remember but still a great film.

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  3. To continue the theme, haven’t seen this one for quite a while! Really great film though. I agree it can be a little manipulative but I think it’s largely alright in that respect. Nice review bud.

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    • Yeah, you’re spot on Chris. There’s no doubt that if does manipulate but it’s still very effective regardless. This was a real favourite of mine from my late childhood/early teens. It was nice to see again recently.

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  4. I haven’t seen this movie in years, probably not since its theatrical release.

    Your review reminded me how much I liked it when I first watched. Thanks.

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    • I hadn’t seen it for years either Vic. I think I was about 12 years old when I first seen it. I’m 35 now, so that just shows the timescale. It was great to see it again, though, and it hasn’t lost much.

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  5. Robin Williams’ only good film maybe? lol

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  6. Oh, yes. Good one, Mark.

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  7. Nice work, Muckers!

    Boat Drinks!

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  8. Good review. Williams can turn in some pretty impressive dramatic performances, though he’s still best at comedy in my opinion. This and Good Will Hunting are two solid examples that he really can act.

    Like everyone else, it’s been a while since I last watched this, but I remember thinking it was okay. Definitely not Weir’s best film, but not his worst either.

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    • I’d have to say that I prefer Williams’ dramatic roles over his comedy as I get a little tired of the same comedic stuff from an actor. Jim Carrey is a prime example. I enjoy his comedy but I think he’s better served in dramatic roles.

      As for Weir’s best film…? I’d agree that this isn’t it, but I’m hard pushed to pick one. I find his material quite diverse.

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      • Yeah, Weir has developed a diverse filmography for sure. I’ve gotta say my favorite of his is The Truman Show. Interestingly enough, that film also stars a comedic actor in a dramatic role.

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      • The Truman Show is certainly up there with his very best. Love that film and it’s also one of my favourite Carrey performances as Dead poets is one of my favourite Williams performances. Weir chose well in casting them both.

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  9. ray brayne Says:

    I was in a waiting line at a San Francisco restaurant behind Robin Williams and a party of friends. They were constantly laughing and when it came time to be seated, Williams told the maitre’ de, “Yasser Arafat, table for 300 hundred”.
    I never could take Williams too seriously in his dramatic films. It was kind of like expecting a punch line at an second. Still this movie had heart. 3 stars worth for me.

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    • Haha! That’s quite a claim to fame there Ray. I find it hard to take Williams seriously as well, but I found that he really reigned it in for this role. Just when you think he’s going to go for it with jokes he withdraws. If anything, his balance of humour and drama really suited the character well. It made him more appealing. 3 stars is an admirable score but I also have some biased nostalgia on my side. I loved this film years ago.

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  10. never actually seen this Mark, but good to see you being more productive again buddy 🙂

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    • I’m doing my best to hang in there man. Haven’t seen many movies of late but still working off older notes that I’d taken of fairly recent viewings. If you haven’t seen this, you should check it out. It’s a good movie.

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  11. Really enjoyed this film from Weir, Williams, and co. I recall being thoroughly impressed with this at the time of its release and since. Hawk, Robert Sean Leonard, and cast did a fine job.

    “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
    – Keating (Williams), Dead Poet Society ’89

    I guess Williams character quote is from a Roman poet originally.
    Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace) who wrote many odes in latin including I.11 which gave us in part the following translation.

    “Be wise, strain the wine, and for a brief hour
    cut short long hopes. Even as we speak time flies unbidden
    Seize the day, not trusting in tomorrow.”

    Great post 🙂
    -Cheers

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    • It was indeed a quote from Horace. One which only serves to add proof of Keatings extensive knowledge and intellect. He’s a man, well versed in his poets, writers and orators and it definitely comes across in the film. Thanks for your comment my friend. It’s always nice when someone gives a little story/history to to their thoughts. Seize the Day! 😉

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  12. This flick is in my top 10 of all time. Great review. I agree that it’s haunting as well as it’s beautiful, while being injected with a solid dose of humor (that’s much needed). That ending always messes with me lol

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    • Top 10 Nick? That’s high praise indeed, my man. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone including this but good on you. I’m interested to know what the other 9 are now.

      Yeah, that ending, man. It brings a wee tear to the eye. 😉

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  13. I think I still carry a grudge against this movie for making it seem like a feel good story in the marketing (see trailer below) and then turning out to be uber depressing. I’ll have to revisit in order to recall the uplifting ending. All I remember is the sad as %#$& (Spoiler).

    Still a good flick, but I do bear a grudge….

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    • I suppose that’s fair when you expected something else entirely, Fogs. You’re right, though, the ending is also quite sad and it used to get me every time but on a recent visit my opinion of it changed.

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  14. Great review, Marky! 🙂

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  15. You’re a goddamn mind reader, I was just talking to my brother about wanting to re-watch this one and he was checking to see if he owned a copy of it.

    While I have not seen this film in many a day I recall absolutely loving it. Robin Williams can be so good when he has a director that manages to keep him in check.

    spoilers:

    So when I was in college I was talking up this chick and she said to me “did anyone ever tell you that you look like that kid who kills himself in dead poets society?” Turns out she was into that sort of thing 😉

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    • Haha! Look into my eyes. Into my eyes, Mr. Griffith. 😉

      It’s worth a rewatch, man. I seen it a couple of months ago but that me just getting around to finishing a post on it. It still had an impact after all these years and Williams is great in it.

      So you’ve been compared to Robert Sean Leonard? Dead or alive, I wonder? 😉

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  16. Great review Mark. This film made a really big impact when I first watched it. I think even though like you say it can be a little manipulative, it is definitely a pretty powerful film. Robin Williams is fantastic too. Wouldn’t it be great to see him get a really quality role again? The last thing I can recall is Good Will Hunting, though I hope I am forgetting a couple because that was rather a while ago.

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    • Thanks man! It certainly does pack a bit of a punch doesn’t it? I’ve always been a fan and of most of Weir’s movies. Williams on the other hand, has made a lot of stinkers. Good Will Hunting was the last decent thing I can remember too. I did like Insomnia as well, though.

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  17. Love it! I have to revisit this one…been a long time–the cast are all babies! 😀

    Great review! later…

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    • Yeah, that cast a certainly very young in it. Their talents are still on show, though. Its a great movie. One that I don’t think will ever really age. It’s worth a revisit. Thanks man!

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  18. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Hi Mark, haven’t dropped by in what feels like ages. Sorry about that. A busy time at work, I’ve just about been able to write myself but not read much of other people’s blogs for the past month or so.
    Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed this review. For a while as a teenager this was one of my favourite films and I watched it quite a few times. I haven’t watched it in a number of years but I think you nail its qualities here. I like a lot of Peter Weir’s films but this one is my favourite. The scene where they get up on the chairs at the end always gets me, even if it’s a bit cheesy.

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    • Good to see you return buddy. I know exactly what it’s like trying to keep up. I have similar problems from time to time. It’s the nature of blogging, really, so worry about it.

      Yeah, this was a film that was played out during my youth. I absolutely loved it. Having seen it fairly recently after so many years, it still had many qualities. That ending is a real beauty. Cheesy? Yes! But still a winner. 🙂

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