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This inspirational 1989 film was directed by Peter Weir and starred Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke.

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"Carpe Diem... Seize the Day!"

  • Feb 9, 2009

From master director Peter Weir (The Year of Living Dangerously and Witness) comes the inspirational film Dead Poets Society. Through Weir's skillful direction the film is imbued with a passionate message about self-expression and discovering your identity, and yet it never comes across as being preachy or pretentious.

The screenplay was written by Tom Schulman, who based much of the story upon his own experiences in school. The story is universal, showing how words and ideas can change us and how sometimes one person can affect the lives of all those in his or her proximity.

The film is enhanced by a stirring score composed by Maurice Jarre, who famously composed the music for both Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

Also adding to the film's overall impact is the beautiful cinematography, which was the result of director of photography John Seale's hard but rewarding efforts.



The story, which is set in a Delaware prep school during the late 1950s, follows a group of students, who are bonded by their love of poetry, as they are inspired by their new English teacher to live life to the fullest. Professor Keating, Welton Academy's new English teacher instills a newfound sense of freedom and passion to his students, teaching them the importance of self-expression and individualism. Among his students four of them, in particular, are given the drive to be themselves at all costs. The way that each student reacts to this new philosophy is different.

Todd Anderson, who had been insecure, shy, and repressed, learns to voice his thoughts and feelings with conviction and confidence. Neil Perry, who is constantly being dictated to by his overbearing father, learns to follow his dreams and desires. Charlie Dalton, who had always been rebellious, discovers the power of having a real cause to fight for. Knox Overstreet finds out that he must follow his heart and he learns that through persistence and patience he can find love.

Yet these boys' self-revelations begin to draw the attention of the school's ultra-conservative, authoritarian headmaster, Mr. Nolan, who holds tradition and discipline as being the greatest of virtues. Mr. Nolan, who already is uneasy about Professor Keating's unconventional teaching methods, is drawn into conflict with Keating, who has been teaching his class about the dangers of conformity. As a result, a small group of students, including Neil, Charlie, Knox, and Todd, reform the Dead Poets Society, a fraternity of sorts to which Keating had once been a founding member. The Dead Poets Society meets in a cave not too far off of the school grounds, where they read poetry, smoke, and discuss life.

While each of the students finds a new inner strength, they are also forced to face the fact that their aspirations may not come into fruition. When one of the boys commits suicide, feeling that he'll never achieve his goals and obtain the personal freedom that he so desperately craves, Mr. Nolan accuses Keating of encouraging him in his folly. After short deliberation Mr. Keating is fired and an investigation begins. But Keating's students, now empowered with their newly discovered self worth, give him a farewell that he'll never forget.


Ethan Hawke

Dead Poets Society features a marvelous cast that includes Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson, Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry, Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet, Gale Hansen as Charlie Dalton, Norman Lloyd as Mr. Nolan, Kurtwood Smith as Mr. Perry, and Robin Williams as Professor Keating. Ethan Hawke, in an early role, gives what may be his best performance to date, playing the introverted Todd. Robert Sean Leonard brings depth and believability to the role of Neil. Kurtwood Smith is superb as Neil's disciplinarian father, who never really understands what's best for his son until it's too late. Norman Lloyd is terrific as the stern, old-fashioned, and often oppressive headmaster, Mr. Nolan. And what can be said of Robin Williams portrayal of Professor Keating? In a rare change of tone, Williams gives one of his best dramatic performances as the unorthodox and independent English teacher. Though at times over-the-top and occasionally letting too much of his comedic habits break through the exterior of his character, Williams gives the film a necessary emotional core and a sense of immediacy.

Robin Williams

When Dead Poets Society was released in 1989, it was met with mixed reactions. Though most audiences and critics hailed the film as a tremendous achievement in dramatic storytelling, there were those who criticized the film as being overly sentimental and historically inaccurate. These claims had little merit, though it's true that the film's brand of comedy and some of the dialogue are anachronistic. But there were also other complaints. Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, felt that considering the title the film had little actual poetry in its story. With all due respect to Roger Ebert, I feel that he missed the point of Dead Poets Society. The film isn't meant to be about poetry per se, despite whatever implications lie within the title. Rather it's about learning the empowerment of self-expression and self-assertion, the value of individualization in the face of rigid conformity and pointless tradition. And as poets have been and always will be champions of self-expression and creative dissent, it's no wonder that they were chosen as the source of inspiration for the students, who are in fact the protagonists of the film and not the poets. The film is about the emotional drive, not the specific method of communication used to express those emotions.

"O Captain, my Captain!" 

Dead Poets Society was also aided by one of the most moving and memorable finales in film history. The film's ending remains one of the most iconic and compelling examples of peaceful protest ever, as the students quite literally stand up for what they believe in.

Since the film's initial release, Dead Poets Society has been regarded as something of a classic and has lead to many imitations. The "inspirational teacher" story has become quite the cliché and yet this film still holds up twenty years after its debut. Why? Because we can all relate to finding empowerment through someone else, be that person a teacher, a coach, a family member, a friend, or a lover. We can all understand what it's like to be strengthened by that kind of a relationship and we know how rare and unforgettable an inspiration like that can be. And above all, that's what Dead Poets Society is: unforgettable.

Robin Williams as Professor Keating Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry The Tragic End... A Different Perspective A Tribute to Professor Keating

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December 07, 2009
Thanks for inviting a re-live of Dead Poets Society. We had an utterly memorable shared moment watching this movie in our family cottage by the loch (Scotland) in the early 90s. We (included down to 8 year old and up to an elder in the Scottish Church) ALL stood on OUR chairs, so moved we were at that moment you spoke of in the movie :)
February 18, 2009
One of us should. I surprised no one has yet. I like the way natural borns are referred to as In Valids which looks a lot like invalids.
February 17, 2009
Well, I may take you up on that, Cory. But it'll be a while. I've got about half a dozen reviews that I'm working on and that's not counting all the films that are coming out that I want to review before they hit DVD, so I'll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.
February 17, 2009
Good point, Queenie. Gattaca was a really great film. Someday I'll have to get around to reviewing it. I haven't seen it in about ten years and I don't recall all of the details, but I remember that it had something to do with genetics and social caste. Uma Thurman was also quite good if I remember correctly.
February 16, 2009
I thought Hawke was really good in GATTACA.
February 15, 2009
I've been meaning to purchase this on DVD... I actually haven't seen it since it was shown in a class in high school but I do remember it being a great movie and very different. There was another movie with a similar story(maybe a bit more girly & chick flick-ish) - I want to say Mona Lisa Smile? Great review! Currently looking this up on amazon.com ...
February 14, 2009
Hi Queen B. It's funny you should mention The History Boys, I just saw it last week. It was quite good, though I must say I prefer Dead Poets Society. Hey Cory. I agree completely. Other than Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, this is undoubtedly Ethan Hawke's best role. Though, I did like him as the snotty, intellectual dropout in Reality Bites.
February 13, 2009
Have you seen THE HISTORY BOYS? Alan Bennett adapted it from his own stage play. I think you'd probably enjoy it.
February 11, 2009
I have to admit, I barely remember this film. I think I saw this in theaters way back when...I do remember that peaceful protest thing, it was indeed nice. nice write up.
February 10, 2009
I loved Dead Poet's Society all those years ago, and now I'm reminded every week about how great of a movie it was. Dr. Wilson always takes me back to my high school English class and watching this movie year after year.
More Dead Poets Society reviews
review by . March 15, 2011
I have been watching this in my English class for days now and I can safely say that this is probably the best movie ever made for an English classroom. DPS is also one of the best, if not the best high school movies ever made and one of two movies that I haven't hated Robin Williams in. In fact, I thought that he was terrific in this movie. The young cast are great as well and this is a genuinely touching, inspirational movie.      For those of you who don't know, Dead …
review by . June 11, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
This is one of the most inspiring and saddest movies ever made. Robin Williams stars as John Keating, an inspirational and unconventional English teacher in an atmosphere of strict conformity. The school is one that rigid, simplistic parents send their young men to, and they expect the education to be formal, complete and without deviation from the prescribed path.    Williams arrives at the school and teaches the boys the joy of breaking with the mass lockstep and thinking for themselves. …
review by . March 16, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
`Dead Poets' Society' feels like a classic from start to finish. The movie finds Robin Williams in a break-out role that transcends his earlier, comedic work. Which is not to say he isn't funny at times in this movie; it's just that he's more well-rounded. If we didn't care about the poor lads at Welton Academy, the whole film would fall apart. A boarding school with the highest academic standards, Welton is presented as the epitome of 1950's conformity and convention.    It …
review by . April 05, 2003
Dead Poet's Society is a compelling tale of being true to your calling. The words Carpe Diem ring true as one must indeed seize the day.Robin Williams is mildly amusing but extremely dramatic in his role as a prep school poetry professor. He emphasizes to his students to make the most of their opportunities. To speak out and be heard. Unfortunately the school he works for merely wants to prepare their students to get into the best college possibly without any regard to their feelings. The results …
review by . May 10, 2000
Pros: Wonderful cast - Williams is briliant     Cons: none     Another outstanding performance by Robin Williams as John Keating, English teacher at a Vermont prep school. Previously a student at the school, Keating has returned to become an off beat and not always by the rules teacher.       While a student, he belonged to what became known as the Dead Poets Society, a group of young men that met regularly - initially to discuss literature …
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About this movie


Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama film starring Robin Williams and directed by Peter Weir. Set at a conservative and aristocratic boys prep school, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students to change their lives of conformity through his teaching of poetry and literature.

The story is set at the fictional Welton Academy in Vermont in the 1950s, and was filmed at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware. The script, written by Tom Schulman, is based on his life at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Movies, Movie, 1980s Movies, Robin Williams, Peter Weir, Dramatic Films


Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Tom Schulman
DVD Release Date: January 10, 2006
Runtime: 128 minutes
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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