Spoiler Alert! Dead Poets Society Reviewed

Dead Poets Society Reviewed

By Thomas Harper

When I found myself looking for a cozy Fall movie, I came across a film called Dead Poets Society. After reading through the summary and glancing at the cast I was hooked. I started the film expecting a light-hearted yet emotional teen drama, but I was entertained by so much more in 129 minutes. 

Dead Poets Society is about a group of teenagers attending an all-male boarding school that are changed by their new English teacher, Mr. Keating. Mr. Keating focused on poetry a lot in his lessons that are taught in an unconventional manner compared to the other strict teachers throughout the school. Mr. Keating tells his students to rip out the introduction to their poetry textbook for it is, “excrement”. He schedules classes outside to keep his students physically and emotionally attached to the poetry they study. He puts major emphasis on independent thinking and that any poem can be good as long as they’re unique and meaningful to the author. 

The boys are inspired by these unusual lessons and after one of the boys, Neil, finds out that Mr. Keating was a part of a secret poetry club at their boarding school, he encourages the rest of the boys to again unionize the Dead Poets Society. They hold their meetings in a cave off campus and mock famous poems as well as creating some of their own. This makes the boys feel alive after being under strict restraint of school codes they’ve lived under for years. Each boy would soon chase after their ambitions throughout the film because of the teachings of Mr. Keating. 

There are only a few members of the Dead Poets Society that get their own sub plot in the film, the main character to follow was Neil. Neil decides to go into an acting career because of inspiration from Mr. Keating. Within his very first audition he gets a lead role in a play. His excitement is halted by his father when he eventually finds out. Neil’s father thinks he’s no good for the arts and is wasting his time. He forbids Neil from performing in this play despite the fact that opening night is approaching soon. Neil goes to Mr. Keating for advice, finding the courage to stand up for his father. What Mr. Keating didn’t know was that Neil lied to him about his father’s permission to perform. After all the Dead Poets and Mr. Keating attend Neil’s play, his father is there to crush his dreams. His father’s attempt in order to ensure his son’s studies in medicine, he transfers him to a military academy. 

Neil takes this to a soul crushing degree. Devastated by his father’s decision to restrict his purpose in life, he’ll make a devastating decision himself. Neil convinces himself that as long as his father is there to prevent him from living his best life, there’s no point in living at all. Neil took his own life the same night of the play with his father’s gun. 

This leads into the mournful third act. All the Dead Poets grieve the loss of their beloved friend. Some blame Neil’s father for his death, others blame Mr. Keating. The school finds the Dead Poets Society related and responsible for Neil’s death, taking the father’s side. The school interviews each member to discover the truth that is soon twisted into an unfortunate end for Mr. Keating. He’s blamed for encouraging Neil for something he knew his parents would disapprove of. 

 But the film doesn’t come to such a depressing end but rather an inspiring one. On Mr. Keating’s last day when he is gathering his things his students lash out in class in order to his defense. Many Dead Poets and other classmates stand on their desks, disobeying order from the school dean to get them down. Mr. Keating gazes upon his students proudly as they have completed the final chapter to their journey of individuality and finding one’s self, and then the film ends. 

The story of Dead Poets Society is a beautifully written one full of warmth and smiles that lead to tears and sorrow. The first two acts flow perfectly with the introduction of Mr. Keating’s teaching style and why it inspires the boys to chase their ambitions in the second act. But watching the boys feeling alive comes to a halt in the third act, teaching us that some dreams are too big to grasp, that some people aren’t privileged with a life of freedom to be what one truly wants to be. Sometimes, the wings of Icarus will melt. Near the end of the film asks the question of who is to blame? The man who made the wings, the sun, or Icarus himself? 

This story about living your ambitions couldn’t have been captured and portrayed any better. Every shot of one of the classes outside or a Dead Poet biking makes me want to go out and jump in a pile of leaves. This film screams Autumn. I can feel the crisp wind on my face when Knox rides his bike down a hill, scaring a bunch of geese. I notice that more and more students add sweaters to their uniforms because of the constant decreasing temperatures. I feel the cold stone Todd lies his back against at night when he stares at the same birthday present his parents gave him last year. The autumn and winter shots are really beautiful and shouldn’t be overlooked even for the somewhat limited setting of a boarding school campus. 

The characters that are a part of the Dead Poets Society carry the story as well. Todd, the character you first follow at the beginning of the film, is a shy student that shares a room with Neil. He grows from being a shy poet that isn’t confident in his work into the Dead Poet that starts the chain reaction of standing on desks at the end of the film because of his close friendship with Neil and teachings from Mr. Keating. Neil is tired of his parents helicopter and deciding what’s best for him which logically explains his love for Mr. Keating and his unorthodox way of teaching, making Neil want to make his life a little more unorthodox. Charlie is the joker of the group that shares a care for Mr. Keating’s rebellious teaching. Charlie stands up for the Dead Poets Society when they start to be investigated by the school, he likes to be the fun one while looking out for his peers. Knox takes the actual poetry taught by Mr. Keating and uses one of its many forms of practicality, wooing girls, more specifically Chris. He never would’ve found the courage to commit himself to a relationship without the guidance of Mr. Keating and support of the rest of the Dead Poets. Mr. Keating had such a great impact on each of these kid’s lives that it’s almost impossible to think of him as a bad person. No viewer would blame Mr. Keating for the death of Neil.

Mr. Keating might be one of my favorite characters in all of cinema. From the very first moment Robin Williams walked through the classroom door and immediately turned around expecting his students to follow, he became the teacher I always wanted. He loves changing the class setting, allowing his lessons a fun variety that doesn’t come with the usual teachers at the school. He balances fun in the classroom as well as proper teachings of poetry and philosophy that greatly inspire his students to actually enjoy the class they never expected themselves to be interested in. Mr. Keating’s characterization in the first act makes him one of the most likable and fun characters that I’ve seen in any film. This characterization effectively assists one side of Neil’s death and guides the viewer to defend Keating. 

There are so many things this film does right. It tells a beautiful story that advocates for the very necessary freedom in student youth. It convincingly teaches the reader why teens need independence through the actions these relatable characters take and showing the consequences of controlling your child’s life. Dead Poets Society is an emotional and dramatic masterpiece of teen film that is completely unique to its genre and has become one of my favorite films of all time. 



Dead Poets Society last scene (1989 Touchstone Pictures)