104. Dead Poets Society

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Movie: Dead Poets Society

Release Date: June 2, 1989

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith, Dylan Kussman, James Waterston.

Tag Lines: “He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary.”

Relevance: ‘Dead Poets Society’ was a box office hit in the summer of 1989 eventually becoming the fifth highest grossing film of that year. It also received positive reviews, unless you asked Siskel & Ebert. They both disliked the film quite a bit. Despite that critical duo, the film went on to garner many awards and nominations including four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. It won one Oscar for best screenplay. But for me, it was more than just a movie about a teacher and his students, it was a life lesson at a very appropriate time.

I graduated high school from a small Catholic school in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1989. Being Catholic, there was a lot of theatrics and pageantry surrounding this event. Class day, a Baccalaureate Mass, dinners, gatherings and not to mention final examinations. Despite that busy time which also included a part time job as a busboy at a local fine dining restaurant, I was able to head to the theaters to see ‘Dead Poets Society’ with friends.

The group of friends I primarily hung out with were very accommodating as far as what movies we would see. Generally speaking, we all had the same taste. At that time all of us were huge fans of Robin Williams, so that coupled with the moving trailer that was being shown quite a bit promoting the film, it was a no brainer. We were ‘Dead Poets Society’ bound.

There were probably at least six of us that went to see the movie and all six of us were equally affected by the film. I was the only one in the group that was graduating that particular year, but everyone was approximately an age or two older or younger. We were the perfect target audience. Every single one of us, either male or female, was able to relate to the growing pains the characters on screen were going through, not to mention the private school aspect. All of us left the film in tears or close to it but in that same breath we were equally motivated to “carpe diem.”

‘Dead Poets Society’ became one of my favorite films that year and I purchased it on VHS as soon as I could. It was a movie that I would watch quite a bit when I needed a little extra motivation that I wasn’t getting from real life. I am easily persuaded by art. Thank goodness for that. The movie also became a source of many quotes and reminders about life of which I took to heart and tried to live by, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Regardless, the film not only was a source of affirmations for me, it also entertained me and will always have a special place in my heart.

Here’s hoping the Class of 1989, carpe diem’d the hell out of life.

Today’s Thoughts: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

There are some movies that inspire me. There are some movies that tear out my heart. ‘Dead Poets Society’ is a rare film that does both. I own this film on DVD and watch it periodically albeit cautiously. I know how I am going to react when I do, so I have to make sure I am of sound mind and in a safe place.

Today I was not in a sound mind, but I was in a safe place while I watched ‘Dead Poets Society.’ One of my living heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed away last night which explains my fragile heart and mind. I was home alone though, so at least I was safe when the inevitable flood of tears happened. And they did happen.

The film is still a solid drama with a progressive screenplay and amiable cast, including the brilliant Robin Williams. His performance as John Keating is subtle and restrained, something that he didn’t necessarily showcase a lot of the time. The rest of the then young cast including Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Dylan Kussman and James Waterston are equally effective in their portrayals of young men on the verge of manhood.

Beautifully directed by Peter Weir, the film always stirs the emotional writer, poet and dreamer in me. The tears really start to flow during the scene where Ethan Hawke must present his original poem, which he said he did not complete. The scene is gorgeous in every aspect from writing to directing to the acting. By the time it’s over there are tears rolling down my cheeks. Every time. And the need for Kleenex doesn’t end there. Between the suicide and the students standing on their desks saying “Oh captain my captain,” I was full on sobbing. Like I said, I was glad I was in a safe place.

‘Dead Poets Society’ is more than just a film for me, it is a reminder that life is very short, and you have to seize every second. Carpe diem, if you will. It is a reminder that I need once in awhile as I get too caught up with the mundane daily schedule that often drags my life to a halt. And as an unemployed man living in a global pandemic, the film’s message was definitely appreciated today.

“Make your lives extraordinary.”

Awards: Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Tom Schulman (winner), Academy Award for Best Picture (nomination), Academy Award for Best Director, Peter Weir (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Robin Williams (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Peter Weir (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Robin Williams (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, Tom Schulman (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Film (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Original Film Score, Maurice Jarre (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Direction, Peter Weir (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Robin Williams (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Editing, William M. Anderson (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay – Original, Tom Schulman (nomination), Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Peter Weir (nomination), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Tom Schulman (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, DVD Availability.

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