The Good Old Days Weren’t Always Good.
I remember loving Dead Poets Society when I first saw it about a million years ago in 1989. It’s a movie I see once in a while, but not so often that I have the whole thing committed to memory. I just re-watched it and I have to say that it’s just as brilliant as it was when I first saw it.
We start off in this fantasy world of 1959 where the sons of rich men are sent off to boarding school to ensure a prosperous future. Such silly ideas as happiness or pursuing your own dreams or goals are treated as sheer folly. The school is run by old men, and yet, oddly, they hire a young man to teach English. That young man is Robin Williams’s Mr. Keating.
Kurtwood Smith plays the villain in the piece. He plays the soul crushing father to Robert Sean Leonard’s Neal Perry. The writing is brilliant here. Mr. Perry is a villain on par with Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life or Agent Smith from The Matrix. Only he is much, much worse because he seems to be a real person, whereas Darth Vader or Lex Luthor tend to be a little on the silly side. Mr. Perry is pure evil, pure dog kicking, wife beating, give no quarter hard ass. In a modern film, he would likely be more rounded and maybe even die himself. In Dead Poets Society he lives and get the hero of the story, Mr. Keating, fired. It’s rare that I find a character I can hate so freely.
Dead Poets Society has a lot of beautiful shots of an idyllic life in New England. The school is like Hogwarts with it’s quads and hallways and uniforms and scarfs. The student sports of choice seem to be rowing and rugby. The film does a great job of making you both long for the good old days and hate the class system where only the lucky few get to attend schools like this.
On the other hand, Mr. Keating can also be viewed as the villain. The snake in the Garden of Eden, who poisons the minds of our young heroes who will surely all go on to be Senators and Congressmen. It’s no mistake that the story takes place in 1959, the end of those halcyon days before the Beatles and the Sexual Revolution destroyed American Society. Of course, he isn’t portrayed as such, he’s a hero of the highest order. A harbinger of things to come.
If you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society recently, go watch it again. The acting great, the story is griping, and the poetry is a pure joy.