I first saw this movie in 2009, 8 years ago. I remember watching it in my 8th Grade English class and my teacher saying that it was one of her favorite movies. I remember having to get a parental consent slip signed which spoiled a major plot point of the movie. I remember really liking parts of the movie, but thinking that most of it was fairly slow and boring. Eight years later and this is one of my all-time favorite movies. Whenever I feel lost or discouraged, I put this movie in. There are very few movies that have landed on my “comfort security blanket movie” list. Dead Poet’s Society is one of them.
The story of Dead Poet’s Society is not an overly complicated one. An independent out-of-the-box english teacher joins the staff of a strict and bureaucratic all-boys school. He throws away the stuffy old textbook and teaches the boys to write their own stories. He teaches them to follow their own path, read between the lines, and to love the arts. To seize the day and live life to the fullest. To read poetry not only from the mind, but from the heart. Some of the students take these lessons and create a secret club where they recite poetry for fun. They also start living bravely, openly, honestly, and emotionally. They start becoming active players in their lives, live their lives in the moment, and follow their dreams. I won’t spoil the rest.
I love this story because I am a gigantic book dork. I’m also really humanistic and all about living an emotional and authentic life. This movie inspires me. But there is one other, much more personal, reason that I love this film. In 7th Grade, the year before I saw this movie, I basically lived it. I have always been the shy kid. Scared to be noticed, scared to make a stir, and scared to share my opinion. Not a large amount of self-confidence. It’s not hard to see how I would relate to Todd Anderson. In 7th Grade, I had a teacher who I like to call “Mr. Keating meets Willy Wonka”. My school wasn’t as uptight as the one in this film and it was a co-ed public school. But we had a certain amount of rules. This teacher bent the rules. Yes, we had to read a lot of the same books that most of our grade read. Yes, we had many assignments and projects. Yes, we had boring vocabulary and grammar lessons. But we also had to read double the amount of books that most classes had to read. A lot of them were…controversial to say the least (I learned about prostitution, rape, and self-harm that year…among other things). Many we got to pick ourselves. Our assignments included creating a class-run E-Zine, writing two detailed personal essays, creating a children’s book, comparing literature to art and music, being in a band, running a tea party, and performing an interpretative dance. We also did some creative writing and analytical papers/journals. When I look back at this class I wonder how the hell I kept up with the sheer amount of difficult assignments we were expected to do.
On top of this all was “Mr. Keating” himself. He was a larger-than-life character. Always going on weird tangents, prone to random goofy outbursts, and completely nonsensical half the time. The other half of the time he was walking around with a twinkle in his eye that could give Dumbledore a run for his money, giving out sage life advice, or having calm rational discussions on your work. It was quite like Willy Wonka or The 4th Doctor, where there was a balance between the madness and the wisdom. You never knew which you would get at any time. My personal relationship with him was very reminiscent of the relationship between Mr. Keating and Todd in the film. I tried to hide and that only seemed to put me more in the spotlight. I eventually improved marginally, but it wasn’t a 180 degree character arc. These things take time. When I want to describe my experience in that class to anyone, I just point to the “YAWP” scene from the film. That sums up that entire class in a nutshell.
The author signing I went to yesterday featured an author whose book I read for that class. I haven’t reread the book since, but I remember it being good. The entire book signing and talk, a part of my brain kept thinking about that class. Thinking how full circle it all was. I haven’t thought about that class in ages. Where is “Mr. Keating” now? Where am I in comparison to where I was then?
Either way, I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone who loves writing, poetry, or reading. I would also recommend it for teachers. And anyone who still misses Robin Williams. Which should be everyone. Scratch that. Everyone needs to see this movie. You honestly won’t regret it. Maybe it’ll change your life, too.