Black SplatDead Poets Society (1989)
   

"Excrement!...That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard"

Dead Poets Society - Robin Williams as Professor John Keating

Description: Robin Williams as John Keating, a charismatic English literature professor takes exception to the condescending words of the author of a poetry anthology in the motion picture Dead Poet’s Society (1989).

John Keating is a professor at Welton Academy, a very conservative prep school that is proud of its roots and it position in society. At the start of each school year, Mr. Nolan, the stern Headmaster (Norman Lloyd) asks incoming students "What are the Four Pillars?" upon which the school bases its educational values. The students chant: "Tradition. Honor. Discipline. Excellence."

The students of the class of 1959 include Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) whose older brother was once class valedictorian. While Todd is painfully shy, his roommate Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) is outgoing and popular. The teens, who both have overbearing fathers that refuse to let the boys pursue their own dreams (Neil, an actor; Todd, a writer), become friends and together they tackle their senior year at Welton Academy.

Dead Poet's Society - John Keating teaching his class

Within a short time, Todd and Neil have their eyes opened to the potential of life when they attend John Keatings unorthodox (at least in the eyes of Mr. Nolan) English literature class. Teaching the boys to grasp the philosophy of "carpe diem" (Latin for "seize the day"), Keating exposes the boys to the wonders of the world of poetry.

As their class begins, John Keating is critical of the text assigned the class, in particular, the introduction to the text, which John demands the boys tear out of their books. To motivate the boys, John goes on a humorous tirade, shouting, “Excrement!...That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard."

Adding to his discontent, John continues, “We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like ‘American Bandstand’? ‘I’d like Byron, I gave him a 42, but I can‘t dance to him’...Now, I want you to rip out that page...go on, rip out the entire page...rip it out...I’ll tell you what, don‘t just tear out that page, tear out the entire introduction. I want it gone, history, leave nothing of it...Be gone, J. Evans Pritchard.”

"Mr. Anderson! Don't think that I don't know that this assignment scares the hell out of you, you mole!" - John Keating

While educating the boys, Keating, a former student of the school reveals he used to belong to a secret society formed by his classmates called the "Dead Poets Society" that met in a cave in the nearby woods. Following in his footsteps, John's students resurrect the secret club and meet in the same cave to read literature and discuss their desires and dreams.

"The Dead Poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life. That's a phrase from Thoureau we would evoke at the beginning of every meeting. See, we would gather at the old Indian Cave. Take turns reading from Thoreau, Whitman, Shelley. The biggies. Even some of our own verse, and then in the enchantment of the moment, we'd let poetry work it's magic....we weren't a Greek organization, we were romantics. We didn't just read poetry. We let it drip from our tongues like honey. Spirits soared. Women swooned. And gods were created, gentlemen. Not a bad way to spend an evening, eh?" - John Keating

Dead Poet's Society - Students meet in a cave

Of all the students, John has a particular influence on Neil Perry, who aspires to be an actor, even though his father (Kurtwood Smith) feels that pursuit is a frivolous one. He wants his son to go to Harvard and be a doctor. In the end, dejected by his father's refusal to allow him to follow his dream, Neil commits suicide.


Mr. Perry: We're trying very hard to understand why it is that you insist on defying us. Whatever the reason, we're not gonna let you ruin your life. Tomorrow I'm withdrawing you from Welton and enrolling you in Braighton Military School. You're going to Harvard, and you're gonna be a doctor.
Neil Perry: But, that's ten more years! Father, that's a "lifetime"!
Mr. Perry: Oh, stop it! Don't be so dramatic! You make it sound like a prison term! You don't understand, Neil! You have opportunities that I never even dreamt of, and I am not going to let you waste them!
Neil Perry: I've got to tell you what I feel!
Mrs. Perry: We've been so worried about you!
Mr. Perry: WHAT? What? Tell me what you feel! What is it? Is it more of this, this "acting" business? Because you can forget that!... What?
Neil Perry: [pauses] Nothing.
Mr. Perry: Nothing? Well, then, let's go to bed.

Looking for a scapegoat upon Neil's death, the school points to John Keating and fires him because they believe his relationship with the boys in his class, especially Neil was detrimental to their education and personal development.

Indeed, John had influenced the boys to be free thinkers and not to be constrained inside the circle of life, but to proudly step outside of it. At one point when asked the question "What are the Four Pillars? Todd, Neil and fellow students, Charlie Dalton, Steven Meeks, and Knox Overstreet reply, "Travesty. Horror. Decadence. Excrement."

Dead Poet's Society - Keating students show their support

To show their support of John Keating when he makes one last visit to his class, now being taught by the contentious Mr. Nolan, one by one, Todd Anderson, and other boys in the class climb atop of their desks (amidst Nolan's disapproval) and declare their loyalty to him, by saying, "O Captain, My Captain." John is visibly touched and departs his alma mater in search of a new life.

Note: The phrase "O Captain, My Captain" is the title of a Walt Whitman poem that begins:

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.


Dead Poet's Society - Movie Poster


 
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