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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dead Poets Sociey (1989) Movie Review and the Importance of Indirect Characterization in Film and What Is Learning?


Dead Poets Society (1989)

Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen
Written By: Tom Schulman
Directed By: Peter Weir
Release Date: June 9, 1989
 Rating: 5/5
Summary: A group of boys in a preparatory high school who have really no direction have their eyes opened by their English teacher who inspires them through his unorthodox teaching methods involving poetry and "seizing the day" or Carpe Diem.

My Thoughts:
"I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself." 

This is a direct quote from the film from Robin Williams' character, Mr. Keating, and this quote stuck with me in particular because I have only recently begun to realize what education is. We go to school of 4 years in high school only to be filled with meaningless information that is for the most part, irreverent in more of our future endeavors, but I was thinking in such a black in white way and it was a very limiting kind of way to think. I'm not going to say that this movie changed the way I thought, but it opened my eyes to a newer, fresher way to think. Education isn't merely about stuffing vast amounts of information in children's heads as most people will think, it's about teaching children how to learn in many different ways. We're learning this information and the teachers are teaching us different ways to learn and understand not just what they're writing on the board, but in the outside world as well. We don't need quadratic equations out and about in the real world, but we do need hard, critical thinking methods that allow us to work numbers and maybe other things in and out of many other types of equations. Education isn't teaching us what to learn, it's how to learn and how to think freely for yourself once you're given the knowledge and the tools to do so and that's what Dead Poets Society is about and what's why I adore this film so much.

We have this group of boys in this strict school setting and they all really have no direction, more so our character, Neil (Robert Leonard), who's father (Kurtwood Smith) is overbearing to the point where it's just horrible. They don't really see life for what it is and just go through the motions of life without getting much out of it. Not only is this movie teaching these boys how to live, but it's asking us to think about and reflect on our own lives and ask ourselves if we're living up to our potential and seizing the day, but more importantly, are we being ourselves and being happy. We have these boys from all these different backgrounds involving all different ways in which they are limited. Knox is a boy who wants to be with the girl he loves even though she has boyfriend, Neil just wants to be an actor and Todd wants to find his voice and we have this man, this teacher try and not help them explicitly solve these problems, but really teach them how to go out and solve these problems for themselves. Robin Williams as the type of guy teaching these kids to do so is grand. He's typically a man of more comedic roles, so him blending his more humorous tone with the serious nature of this movie is something spectacular to watch. I was laughing, I was crying and more importantly, I was in awe and it's solely from the acting and the writing. Those two things are what drive this movie home because a lot of films rely on cool camera shots, pretty cinematography and so forth, but Dead Poets Society is really great because of the writing. The atmosphere like a pure adaptation of a novel, which, as an English major is something I can get behind. 

And besides the major themes involving the importance of self and education there's also one important thing that really goes unnoticed with this film. It's this really great literary technique of characterization, or creating characters. Film and literature go hand-in-hand at times and this film is a great example of why. I explained that this movie reads like a novel and one of the techniques used in novels is characterization. This film has no main protagonist and we're shown the lives of multiple young men and this English teacher and we're explained who they are and what they're like implicitly, or without direction, just as these characters are without. A lot of films direct you on what you're supposed to know about characters, but you follow what's going on in this film, you aren't explicitly told what's what by another character or an author, in the case of a novel. And characterization done implicitly in film is something I am very passionate about because it encourages free thinking. Being told what to know is helpful in drawing conclusions and impressions about a character, yes, but in my opinion, drawing ones own is more important. 

For example, we aren't given a "main protagonist", but most people tend to place that role in Todd's direction as he changes the most through the course of the film. He's shy and doesn't speak much, and even when he's introduced to the Dead Poets Society, he's a bystander and his fear lies behind his struggle with lining up a future with what he deems as his own potential. However, I do not deem any character a "main character" per-say in a film like this one because of the fact I have so many big ideas behind everyone, such as the fact that Neil's life was a giant act. Neil, another character people have deemed the "main character" in this film, acted for his friends as happy and complete, he acted like a rigorous student for his father, yet he was none of those things which drove him to do what he did and big ideas would be crushed if we were simply told things from the start and more so, people wouldn't even have the ability to deem characters "main characters" if we were given such information from the start, proving that indirect characterization is good. Indirect characterization is key. 

But, go see Dead Poets Society, whether you're an English major who adores poetry and literature, someone who hates anything involving literature, an alien coming to destroy our planet, I really don't care. Go see this film. This film is a lighthearted, tribute to the joys of learning and education and free thinking, which is something everyone can relate to and take something from. Plus, you get to see a young Ethan Hawke. What more can you want?


1 comment:

  1. Great review. You touched on a lot of the reasons this film is so fantastic, as well as many of the powerful themes presented. I'm glad you talked about the theme of education and how the movie shows that what it really is about is not just learning facts, but teaching people how to solve problems and think for themselves. It's true people tend to forget this, but also I think this film reveals education could often do better to embrace this type of learning. I also wanted to say that, though I think you touched on these things a little bit, the film is about much much more than just education. It really is about how to live ones life better in general, and particularly how to live it to its absolute fullest potential and how to find ones voice. "That the powerful play goes on and YOU may contribute a verse", Keating quotes, "What will your verse be?" The film teaches you how to write your destiny in the way you want it, simply by realizing the power we all have within ourselves. This is why this movie has taught me more about how to live my life than any other I have seen before.


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