Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama film directed by Peter Weir, written by Tom Schulman, and starring Robin Williams. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative boarding school Welton Academy, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.
|Dead Poets Society|
|Directed by||Peter Weir|
|Written by||Tom Schulman|
|Edited by||William Anderson|
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (United States)|
Warner Bros. (International)
|Box office||$235.9 million|
The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Robin Williams. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the César Award for Best Foreign Film and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film. Schulman received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work.
In 1959, Todd Anderson begins his junior year of high school at Welton Academy, an all-male prep school in Vermont. Assigned one of Welton's most promising students, senior Neil Perry, as his roommate, he meets his friends: Knox Overstreet, Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks, Gerard Pitts, and Charlie Dalton.
On the first day of classes, they are surprised by the unorthodox teaching methods of new English teacher, John Keating. A Welton alumnus himself, Keating encourages his students to "make your lives extraordinary", a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem, or "seize the day".
Subsequent lessons include having them take turns standing on his desk to demonstrate ways to look at life differently, telling them to rip out the introduction of their poetry books which explains a mathematical formula used for rating poetry, and inviting them to make up their own style of walking in a courtyard to encourage their individualism. His methods attract the attention of strict headmaster Gale Nolan.
Upon learning that Keating was a member of the unsanctioned Dead Poets Society while at Welton, Neil restarts the club and he and his friends sneak off campus to a cave where they read poetry. As the school year progresses, Keating's lessons and their involvement with the club encourage them to live their lives on their own terms. Knox pursues Chris Noel, an attractive cheerleader who is dating Chet Danburry, a football player from a local public school whose family is friends with his.
Neil discovers his love of acting and gets the role as Puck in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, despite the fact that his domineering father wants him to attend Harvard to study medicine. Keating helps Todd come out of his shell and realize his potential when he takes him through an exercise in self-expression, resulting in his composing a poem spontaneously in front of the class.
Charlie publishes an article in the school newspaper in the club's name demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. Nolan paddles Charlie to coerce him into revealing who else is in the Dead Poets Society, but he resists. Nolan also speaks with Keating, warning him that he should discourage his students from questioning authority. Keating admonishes the boys in his manner, warning that one must assess all consequences.
Neil becomes devastated after his father discovers his involvement in the play and demands he quit on the eve of the opening performance. He goes to Keating, who advises him to stand his ground and prove to his father that his love of acting is something he takes seriously. Neil's father unexpectedly shows up at the performance. He angrily takes Neil home and has him withdrawn from Welton and enrolled in a military academy. Lacking any support from his concerned mother, and unable to explain how he feels to his father, a distraught Neil commits suicide.
Nolan investigates Neil's death at the request of the Perry family. Cameron blames Neil's death on Keating to escape punishment for his own participation in the Dead Poets Society, and names the other members. Confronted by Charlie, Cameron urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Cameron and is expelled. Each of the boys is called to Nolan's office to sign a letter attesting to the truth of Cameron's allegations, even knowing they are false. When Todd's turn comes, he is reluctant to sign, but does so after seeing that the others have complied and succumbs to his parents' pressure.
Keating is fired and Nolan takes over teaching the class, with the intent of adhering to traditional Welton rules. Keating interrupts the class to gather his leftover belongings. As he leaves, Todd reveals to Keating that the boys were intimidated into signing the paper that sealed his fate, and he assures Todd that he believes him. Nolan threatens to expel Todd. Todd stands up on his desk, with the words "O Captain! My Captain!", which prompts Nolan to threaten him again. The other members of the Dead Poets Society (except for Cameron), as well as several other students in the class, do the same, to Nolan's fury and Keating's pleased surprise. Keating thanks the boys and departs.
- Robin Williams as John Keating
- Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry
- Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson
- Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet
- Gale Hansen as Charlie Dalton
- Norman Lloyd as Headmaster Gale Nolan
- Kurtwood Smith as Thomas Perry
- Dylan Kussman as Richard Cameron
- Allelon Ruggiero as Steven Meeks
- James Waterston as Gerard Pitts
- Alexandra Powers as Chris Noel
- Leon Pownall as George McAllister, Latin teacher
- George Martin as Dr. Hager, mathematics teacher
- Carla Belver as Mrs. Perry
- Jane Moore as Mrs. Danburry
- Kevin Cooney as Joe Danburry
- Colin Irving as Chet Danburry
- Matt Carey as Kurt Hopkins
- John Cunningham as Mr. Anderson
- Lara Flynn Boyle as Ginny Danburry (scenes deleted)
Peter Weir had been eager to follow up his two US breakthrough hits with Harrison Ford, Witness and The Mosquito Coast[dubious ], with a romantic comedy starring Gérard Depardieu as a Frenchman who marries an American for convenience called Green Card. Depardieu was in high demand following his success in the Provençal drama Jean de Florette and Weir was advised he would have to wait a year for his availability.
In late 1988, Weir met with Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney (which produced the movie via Touchstone Pictures), who suggested Weir read a script recently received. On a flight back to Sydney, Weir was captivated and six weeks later returned to Los Angeles to cast the principal characters.
The original script was written by Tom Schulman, based on his experiences at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, particularly with his inspirational teacher Samuel Pickering. In Schulman's manuscript, Keating had been ill, slowly dying of Hodgkin lymphoma with a scene showing him on his deathbed in the hospital. This was removed by Weir who deemed it unnecessary, claiming this would focus audiences on Keating's illness and not on what he stood for.
Early notes on the script from Disney also suggested making the boys' passion dancing rather than poetry as well as a new title Sultans of Swing focusing on the character of Mr. Keating rather than the boys themselves, but both were dismissed outright.
Filming started in the winter of 1988 and took place at St. Andrew's School and the Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware, and at locations in New Castle, Delaware, and in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. During the shooting, Weir requested the young cast not to use modern slang, even off camera.
During filming, Robin Williams used to crack many jokes on set, which Ethan Hawke found incredibly irritating. For the scene where Todd Anderson is spontaneously incited by John Keating to make a poem in front of the class, Williams apparently made a joke saying that Hawke was intimidating, which Hawke later realized was serious and that the joke referred to his earnestness and intensity as a young man. Ironically, Hawke's first agent signed with Hawke once Williams told him that Hawke would "do really well".
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 84% based on 61 reviews with an average score of 7.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Affecting performances from the young cast and a genuinely inspirational turn from Robin Williams grant Peter Weir's prep school drama top honors." On Metacritic, the film received a score of 79 based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade.
The Washington Post's reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance". Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised Williams' "exceptionally fine performance", while writing that "Dead Poets Society ... is far less about Keating than about a handful of impressionable boys". Pauline Kael was unconvinced about the film, and its "middlebrow highmindedness", but praised Williams. "Robin Williams' performance is more graceful than anything he's done before [–] he's totally, concentratedly there – [he] reads his lines stunningly, and when he mimics various actors reciting Shakespeare there's no undue clowning in it; he's a gifted teacher demonstrating his skills."
Roger Ebert's review gave the film two out of four stars. He criticized Williams for spoiling an otherwise creditable dramatic performance by occasionally veering into his onstage comedian's persona, and lamented that for a film set in the 1950s there was no mention of the Beat Generation writers. Additionally, Ebert described the film as an often poorly constructed "collection of pious platitudes ... The movie pays lip service to qualities and values that, on the evidence of the screenplay itself, it is cheerfully willing to abandon."
On their Oscar Nomination edition of Siskel & Ebert, both Gene Siskel (who also gave the film a mixed review) and Ebert disagreed with Williams' Oscar nomination; Ebert said that he would have swapped Williams with either Matt Dillon for Drugstore Cowboy or John Cusack for Say Anything. On their If We Picked the Winners special in March 1990, Ebert chose the film's Best Picture nomination as the worst nomination of the year, believing it took a slot that could have gone to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- John Keating – Nominated Hero
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." – #95
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – #52
A theatrical adaptation written by Tom Schulman and directed by John Doyle opened Off-Broadway on October 27, 2016, and ran through December 11, 2016. Jason Sudeikis stars as John Keating with Thomas Mann as Neil Perry, David Garrison as Gale Nolan, Zane Pais as Todd Anderson, Francesca Carpanini as Chris, Stephen Barker Turner as Mr. Perry, Will Hochman as Knox Overstreet, Cody Kostro as Charlie Dalton, Yaron Lotan as Richard Cameron, and Bubba Weiler as Steven Meeks.
The production received a mixed review from The New York Times, with critic Ben Brantley calling the play "blunt and bland" and criticizing Sudeikis's performance, citing his lack of enthusiasm when delivering powerful lines.
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