I hate admitting, seeing as I'm a Creative Writing minor and a Acting major that I've never seen this film before today. Obviously it was fantastic, and seeing as the kind of week its been, I'm pretty far from an unbiased judge, but there's a little bit in here for everyone. It's spirited and high energy and all the boys are really colorful characters. The writing is sincere about what it means to be a teenager, and that comes with the ups and downs and all the passion that a bunch of cooped up non-conforming teens can muster.
"Peter Weir's film makes much noise about poetry, and there are brief quotations from Tennyson, Herrick, Whitman and even Vachel Lindsay, as well as a brave excursion into prose that takes us as far as Thoreau's Walden. None of these writers are studied, however, in a spirit that would lend respect to their language; they're simply plundered for slogans to exort the students toward more personal freedom. At the end of a great teacher's course in poetry, the students would love poetry; at the end of this teacher's semester, all they really love is the teacher." ~ Roger Ebert
I'mma lose a lot of my fans. All like ... ten of you over this one, but I've rarely agreed with Roger Ebert over the years. I was a bit young for him when his show was on TV ... or my Grandparents just never put it on. Could go either way. All I remember for certain are the lyrics to the theme songs for Gilligan's Island and Mr. Ed.
So, renowned as he is, well, I never really agreed with him. Frankly, a film about education is one thing, a film about a teacher's effect is another. I mean, the simple fact that a group of students are getting together outside of class to read poetry in a cave seems to signify to me that they're appreciating the language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they're putting forth the effort and risking the repercussions just to imitate the teacher Ebert is implying they love more than the poetry, but hell, they were doing more than any of the kids I went to school with. It wasn't until college that I got invited to a cave in the desert to read poetry by firelight. And none of them stood on desks as far as I know.
"Before you run off expecting "Robin Williams Live": He not only turns in an acting performance (and a nicely restrained one at that), but he's not on screen half the time. "Poets" is about his influence, or teacher John Keating's influence, on a crop of impressionable young lads at Vermont's "Welton Academy" (actually Delaware's St. Andrew's), where learning is something you take twice daily, so you can wake up a doctor in the morning ... "Poets" peals a bell for intellectual freedom, creativity and, if nothing else, more Robin Williams movies."
The film made me pull all my books on writing off the shelf. On Writing by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing ... even Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I guess that means I'm an impressionable young lad then! Me, and I've noticed, a lot of other people who were touched by this movie. As sad as it is to finally see this film after Robin William's passing, it's fortunate that I didn't see it before High School. I'd have been even more difficult to rear in by my teachers, most of whom respected me more as a person than a student already.
Plot & Characters — So what do we have? As previously stated, for I am lord redundant, we have a bunch of impressionable young lads who's minds are expanded by the unorthodox teachings of John Keating's, played wonderfully by Robin Williams. This film has become a rallying cry for so many people, and I can definitely see why. It's not often that one can relate to the majority of an ensemble cast so well. I think we all have a little bit of each character to one degree or another, and depending on who we're with, that changes.
Sometimes I'm the wild one. Sometimes I'm the brave one. Sometimes I'm the scared one, and the film cycles through these rampant hormonal states with grace and charm. The poetry scenes draw you in, and Keating's speeches are delivered with the kind of power few actors outside Williams could muster ... although I understand at one point Dustin Hoffman was set to play the part. Not that I think he'd have done better, but as talented as Hoffman is, I'd love to have seen his interpretation.
A Personal Tangent —
So I want to share something here though that I ... well, I try to keep this blog light on the personal details. I never set out to write a personal blog, and usual find them overly self indulgent. My life is interesting. My daily life is fairly dull. So if you're not interested in personal gobblety-gook, click away now.
When I was just-turned sixteen, I was not an exemplary student. I was oftentimes in danger of failing and usually only passing by the skin of my teeth. I graduated highschool by writing 3 extra papers during the time allotted for the final, raising my English grade from 17% to a B. One of said papers was a research paper (five sources) on a book I hadn't read. No one can accuse me of buckling under academic pressure.
So just-turned sixteen Godzello is nearly failing his classes, but he has a leading part in the school's Tribute To Broadway Showcase. His father tells him that because of his grades he will have to drop out. The week before we opened the show.
I was horrified, devastated, and, as many sixteen year olds find themselves, enraged.
So while watching Dead Poets Society, I couldn't help to relate to Robert Sean Leonard's character Neil Perry. I started feeling emotions that I hadn't felt in years. I wish that I'd had a teacher like John Keating at the time (I had some who came pretty close). So, major spoiler upcoming.
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING
When Neil killed himself, it rocked me. I don't know how else to describe it other than the road not traveled. I could have been there. I could have chosen to make that decision. In a weird way, the movie made me realize how close I was. At the time all I was thinking about was the play.
So, in my personal version of the events, after a very heated debate (and when I say heated, I'm abusing understatement) I walked out, at sixteen, creating a domino effect (involving me going back and getting kicked out again) that climaxed in me being informally adopted by my lesbian-ex-girlfriend's family, where I lived for six more years, before transferring to University to study theatre.
To reel this back in, I can see why this film resonates with so many, and reaffirms my sadness at the loss of Robin Williams to the world. Bangarang, my captain, bangarang.