Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Drama

The Robin Williams Blogathon: Dead Poets Society (1989)

Robin blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and Gill over at Realweegiemidget Reviews are co-hosting this blogathon all about Robin Williams. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them myself.  

Robin Williams could always make me laugh. Whether I was watching him doing stand up routines on stage. Whether I was watching him in films like Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin. Whatever he was doing, one thing was always for sure, I could always guarantee that I would be on the floor laughing at Robin’s antics. 

I love how sharp and quick he was as a comic, within seconds he could improvise something and literally go down a whole new route and he would have you laughing so hard that tears would fall. I miss him so much. Thankfully he left a legacy of comedy behind for us to enjoy forever. 

I also really enjoy seeing him get to show off his dramatic acting talents. In films like Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo, Robin impresses me greatly, and he shows just what a good dramatic actor he could be. I want to talk about my favourite film role of Robin’s. That film is Dead Poets Society. The character he plays in this is called Mr. Keating. 

This is a film about conformity, individuality, and choice. It’s set in 1959. This was a time when girls were encouraged to get married instead of pursuing a career. Many boys were expected to follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather and join whatever profession they worked in, whether they wanted to do this or not. There were literally generations of men not being able to connect to their kids because their dad hadn’t been able to connect with them, and they therefore didn’t know how to express their feelings to their own children very well.  This film looks at all of these things, and it also shows us how deeply unhappy so many young men at this time were because they were not usually allowed to follow their own paths. 

At school at this time the teachers disciplined the students in their care. They expected facts and figures to be learnt by heart, and the vast majority of these teachers didn’t inspire students. Nor did they really make their classes ones which were desired to be attended. Despite all of that though it has to be said that students were much better behaved back then, and there were also very high standards expected to be followed in schools and in the content of school work which was handed in. So there were good and bad parts to this rigid, and far more traditional era. I’m sure there were also some teachers who were well liked and didn’t teach in that same uninspiring way, but they were few and far between. 

Photo1243
Robin Williams as Keating. Screenshot by me.

Mr. Keating is a man who breaks that teaching tradition. He becomes a friend to the pupils who he teaches. He treats them as individuals. He makes them want to come to his lessons because he makes them interesting and fun.

Keating teaches the boys to think for themselves. He also makes them realise that life itself is way more important than memorising mathematic equations, or remembering facts from history. Life is about living. If you go through life dead inside, trapped in a job or role you take no joy in, then you might as well be dead. 

Whilst Robin does get some funny moments in this film, I think that his performance and role here is much more serious than people were really used to at this point in his career. Robin does such a good job of conveying how passionate his character is about teaching, and also how much he wants to inspire his students to think bigger and to be themselves.  

Robin also conveys a sadness and a weariness to us about Keating. We see that Keating knows that the reality is many of these students may well just end up unhappy and unfulfilled despite his efforts. He feels for them deeply and we see his pity for them. Robin does such a good job of showing this on his face. Watch him closely and you will see such a lot going on behind his eyes throughout this film.    

While Keating and the message he conveys are largely positive, there are those in the school who see him as a danger and want him gone. Also just like in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Keating’s influence and inspiration ends up leading to tragedy and pain. He and the individuality that he represents are scapegoated and blamed for this.  

I don’t think this is fair or justified. In reality it is the father of the boy at the centre of the tragedy who is to blame for what happens. He wouldn’t listen to his son, he wouldn’t try to understand his desires, and he failed to see how desperate and unhappy he was. This boy had also shown signs of depression and despair long before he even met Keating. Keating’s words merely made him realise just how trapped he was in his life.

The boy does what he does in the end because he is taking control of his situation, and because he also knows that his father (and the traditional society he represents) will never stop trying to control him. He can’t stand that thought, and so he takes his own life to escape that continued unhappiness. Nobody wants to accept that fact though, and so the idealistic teacher is blamed.

Photo1242
Keating tells his students to live life to the full. Screenshot by me.

We later see that Keating’s lessons will never be forgotten by the boys he has taught. We are left with a sense of hope that they will be able to find their own path in life and stick to it and be happy. Keating can carry that final sight in his heart and mind forever. He knows that he has reached these young men and they have taken his messages and teachings to heart.  

The film is directed by Peter Weir. He is one of my favourite directors and I really like how many of his films often focus on a group of people closed off from the world most of us know. He showed us a girls boarding school in Picnic At Hanging Rock. An Amish community in Witness. A boys boarding school in Dead Poets Society. A naval ship in Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World. 

I like Weir because he lets the actors and the characters tell his stories. He doesn’t rely on effects to keep your interest. He lets the time and place in which his film is set wash over you and draw you in. It’s like you are transported into the world he is showing you. This film is one of his very best. 

The film is set in America in 1959. Welton Academy is a prestigious boys school. It is seen as a great privilege to get a place there. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke)is a new student here and is both nervous and uncertain about his future here. He is a shy and introverted boy and has the shadow of his accomplished older brother (a former pupil) hanging over him.

Todd is befriended by Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), a seemingly outgoing and fun boy who is Todd’s roommate. Neil actually harbours a deep sadness and pain. Neil helps Todd become a little less introverted. 

Photo1244
One of Keating’s classes. Screenshot by me.

Mr.Keating (Robin Williams)is a former pupil of the school who has returned here to take up the position of English teacher.  His teaching methods soon attract the criticism of the headteacher, Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd).

The pupils meanwhile love his lessons and his fresh teaching style. Neil Perry takes Keating’s words about seizing the day very much to heart. Neil is ignored by his over bearing father and is being pressured into a career he has no wish to have. Neil longs to be an actor, but he sadly is all too aware that this just won’t be a possible career choice for him to pursue. 

Neil, Todd, Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Knox Overstreet(Josh Charles), Gerard Pitts(James Waterston), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Richard Cameron(Dylan Kussman)are the group of friends who are influenced by Keaton the most. This group start up a secret club called The Dead Poets Society. This club was originally something Keating belonged to during his time as a student. In the club they can discuss poetry, tell stories, share laughter, and generally have a good time away from the restraints of the school. 

Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles would go on to become pretty big names in film and TV. The other kids never seemed to reach the same level of fame sadly. Gale Hansen is the standout of the film for me. Hansen plays the rebellious class clown, Charlie Dalton; he is already something of a free thinker already but he really takes it to the next level once Keating enters his life. 

Norman Lloyd is excellent as the strict and cold headmaster (Norman is still with us now aged 103!).

Kurtwood Smith delivers a solid performance as Neil’s dad, he loves his son, but he doesn’t know how to talk to him and he won’t let him follow his dreams (more than likely because that is what happened between him and his own dad).

Robin Williams brings warmth and life to Keating and he makes him a teacher who we all long to have in our lives. 

I have to give a shoutout to the utterly gorgeous photography by John Seale. I also can’t praise the beautiful score by Maurice Jarre highly enough, it is atmospheric and haunting. I think this is one of his best ever scores, it stays in my mind long after the film has finished. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Charlie taking a phone call from God.Keating showing the students the photos of former students who are now long since dead. Keating finally getting Todd to be able to recite a poem. Neil and Keating talking about how Neil feels trapped. The students standing at the end for Keating. The scene between Todd and Neil discussing Todd’s birthday present. The first assembly of the new term . Todd out in the snow learning about Neil. All of the Dead Poet Society meetings in the cave. 

What do you think of this film and Robin’s performance?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements