Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Robin Williams Triple Feature--Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. The film portrays a group of prep school boys instructed by an extraordinary (and eccentric) English teacher in a new way of living. They are taught to seize the day and make something of themselves, to be individuals and do what they love. This is a novel concept in a 1950s school where conformity is the ideal, and overbearing parents dictate future professions and the paths to them.

For many of the students, the guidance of their English teacher, Mr. Keating, helps them to leave their shells and grow in confidence. Neil Parry, especially, discovers his love for acting and secretly becomes in the lead in a Shakespearean play. When Neil's father finds out, though, he is outraged. Neil is to become a doctor, and his father has his life charted out for him until he completes medical school (which Neil perceives as an entire lifetime). His father demands that he quit the play, to which Neil at first assents. However, after a talk with Mr. Keating, he tries to explain his love of acting to his father and performs in the first night's show. His father shows up to the performance and drags him home where Neil's father and mother tell him that he will be attending military school and putting aside acting. Neil is given no control over his future, and no further say in what will happen to him. His wants and desires are dismissed as petty, childish things. After his parents go to sleep, Neil desperately ponders his options. Standing in his room, shirtless, with the window open to a cold and snowy night, Neil seems to be anxiously hoping to feel something, anything. When he feels left with no other options, he descends the stairs from his room to his father's study, finds a gun, and shoots himself.

Neil's suicide is blamed on the encouragement of Mr. Keating. Families so often search for something to blame when they cannot explain a death. But the viewer sees that Mr. Keating's guidance brought light into Neil's eyes, that acting gave him a sense of purpose, and that it was extinguished under the well meaning, but extremely harsh, guidance of his father.

Earlier in the film, Knox Overstreet says that he will kill himself if he can't go out with a girl he is interested in. This is a phrase thrown around all too often. It becomes difficult to know when to take it seriously. Lots of teenagers are depressed and rebel against their parents, it is part of the experience of identity formation--I would be worried about somebody that never acted that way, I think. Many of them say they will kill themselves, perhaps because they think that this threat will get them what they want, or perhaps because they are seriously considering it. As Neil's character shows, and many others in previous books and movies I have discussed, often times there is not a verbal clue. The adolescent may comply with everything demanded of them, showing their unhappiness to a small few, until they cannot take it anymore and go about their suicide silently, tragically.

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