Dead Poets Society Film Techniques Essay Contest

Autumn VanHam
Dead Poets Society
Peter Weir

The Dead Poets Society is set in New England at Welton Academy, a prestigious preparatory school for boys. The school revolves around old traditions, values, and rules that are enforced by headmaster Gale Nolan (Norman Lloyd). The year is 1959, and Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero), Gerard Pitts (James Waterson), and Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman) are all finally seniors at Welton. These boys have gone to school for many years now; "tradition, honor, discipline and excellence" has been drilled into their heads. Year after year they have conformed and obeyed every little thing they were told; however, that is all going to change.
At the beginning of the movie, each of the boys' unique backgrounds unfolds. Neil is struggling with his predominant father, Todd is living in the shadow of his older brother, Knox's love interest is driving him up a wall, and Charlie wants to be himself. These boys are living in the 1950's, where people were very proper, and respectful. “Being yourself” just wasn't an option. Everyone dressed the same, did their hair the same, and talked the same. However, when Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) comes to Welton and replaces the old English teacher. The boys all expect a stuffy, old man, and they get the exact opposite. Mr. Keating comes and does what all the other teachers failed to do; he connected with the boys on a personal level, treated the with respect, and taught them about all life has in store for them.
The acting in this film made it absolutely stellar. It's alluring; you really cannot look away. The boys may have been somewhat over-dramatic, but it's paints a picture for you. The boys' acting moves you and stirs something around inside of you. They way they spoke, as Mr. Keating would put it, “we didn't just read poetry, we let in drip from our tongues like honey. As the spoke, the poetry came to life; it danced, it sang, it lived. Mr. Keating asks the boys, “'Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.' Why does the writer use these lines?” Charlie Dalton replies, “Because he's in a hurry.” To which Mr. Keating enthusiastically shouts back, “No. Ding! Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.” These words should strike the hearts of all men. We will all die someday, so enjoy life to the fullest while you can. The way the actors spoke all of these words was so passionate and so vigorous that even if a person didn't understand what they were saying they would still understand the meaning.
I ardently admired this movie. Language is so beautiful and so under-appreciated. Nowadays, people hardly write letters, or call people on the phone to speak to them. They speak in “text talk,” and it sounds ridiculous. Words should flow from our mouths. We should all appreciate the beauty that is in our language, but all the beautiful words are being forgotten and replaced with things like “YOLO.” It really is heartbreaking. “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.” -Mr. Keating. This movie teaches about the beauty of language that teenagers today are missing out on. It has themes of life which are so true to who we are and themes of life that apply to all of the human race. Carpe Diem- seize the day. Be extraordinary, a nonconformity. The struggles within family. Pressure from your peers. The power of being charasmatic. Struggling to find your identity. Rebellion.
This movie isn't for any teenager looking for a fun movie on a Saturday night. This movie is full of deep meanings and themes. It's full of beautiful language that most teens today probably have never heard before. It's full of symbolism. It's filled with all the things that matter in life to humans, and the reality of life. This movie resonated with me through it's acting and beautiful dialogue. I gave this movie a sincere 5-star rating.

Peter Weir is an Australian director credited in part with revitalizing the Australian film industry through the Australian New Wave Cinema movement, a state- and government-funded effort to reinvigorate Australian film production after a near total stand-still following World War II. The film journal Senses of Cinema describes Weir's film style as one where "generic conventions border on the iconoclastic, alternative realities and cultural incompatibilities abound, and numinous yearnings challenge staid conventionalities." This description is consistent with the story and themes of Dead Poets Society, in which iconoclasm is at the forefront of the film's central conflict, the formation of a group in which students think and create on their own and for themselves. To be sure, the film also showcases cultural incompatibilities when Keating's unique teaching methods clash with the Welton administration's straight-nosed ideologies. And of course, the central conflict of the film is about challenging staid conventionalities when the boys choose to defy what is expected of them, particularly Neil when he choose to pursue acting against his father's wishes.

Despite his ventures into a multitude of different film genres over the course of his career, Weir's works have been described as never straying too far from "human drama" (IndieWire). Indeed, his many prominent films, among them Witness (1985) and The Truman Show (1998), feature actors well known for their comedy or action roles who instead take on serious, delicately emotional roles (e.g. Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams). The films themselves explore the intricacies of humanity under stressful but relatable conditions, despite the perhaps far-removed premises. Dead Poets Society, taking place at a fictional private school in the 1950s and portraying adolescents laboring under strict tradition and a teacher with whom that tradition locks horns, represents an excellent example of this, of the human drama that fills Weir's style.


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