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Dead Poets Society

Starring: Robin Williams
Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Drama
Year: 1989
Rating: 5 / 5

Dead Poets Society, Peter Weir's inspirational prep school drama, is one of the most moving films of all-time, featuring excellent performances by its young actors and a career-best performance by Robin Williams as Professor John Keating. Though it was not until the 1998 Oscar ceremony that Williams received his first Academy Award, as the Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting, it is this movie which proved to me and the world that Williams was more than a stand-up comedian-turned-actor. Williams is the real deal, and his performance here ranks with the best of all-time.

Welton Academy, an upper class prep school in New England, is the setting for this drama, which occurs in the 1950s. Seen as a springboard to the Ivy Leagues - the headmaster boasts during his welcoming address that more than 75% of all graudates go there - parents are willing to sacrifice anything to allow their children to attend this advantageous school. Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) is one such child, one who is reminded constantly by his father (Kurtwood Smith) of the hardships the family has endured for Neil's sake. Perry's roommate, Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), is from the other end of the spectrum. His family is steep in tradition at Welton, where his brother was a recent valedictorian. Todd is left to cope with his parents' seeming lack of love for him, as they have shipped him away like his brothers before him to study and pursue a career along this pre-destined path.

Into their lives strides Williams (Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire) as John Keating, the newest professor at and a former graduate of Welton. Compared with the dry, bland teachings of the other professors at the academy, Keating actually speaks to the students. So unique and out of the ordinary are his words that the students are awe-struck, and uncertain how to respond. Whereas other teachers merely lecture and delegate, Keating pushes his students to be involved, to think, to use their minds. He wants to ensure that they really learn to experience life, to "suck the marrow" out of it. Through this encouragement, he is able to reach his students like none before him.

Yet it is this same ability to communicate with the students that leads to the movie's tragic, defining moment. In Todd, there exists a shy, young man with worlds of potential who does not as yet possess the will to stand up for what he believes in, a man who quietly sits be the wayside and lets others go by. Yet in Neil, we find a confident, young man, whose desires are sometimes suppressed by the overbearance of his father, but a man who knows what he wants to do with his life. He does not want to be one entrenched in a given track to medical school - he wants to find his own way, to express his own self, and in this case, to act.

Coming into conflict with John Keating's motivating speeches about finding one's own voice are years of tradition, involving both the academy and the families whose children attend the academy. These two irrepressible forces are destined for a collision, and this collision is at the crux of the movie's conclusion. Dead Poets Society is the rare drama that can touch men and woman alike, as anyone can find true inspiration and guidance in Keating's words. Do not merely follow in the footsteps of others, this movie preaches. Seize the day.


Robin Williams..........John Keating
Robert Sean Leonard..........Neil Perry
Ethan Hawke..........Todd Anderson
Josh Charles..........Knox Overstreet
Kurtwood Smith..........Mr. Perry
Norman Lloyd..........Mr. Nolan

Certification: Rated PG.
Running Time: 128 minutes.

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