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Revisiting “Dead Poets Society”: a film with both heart and humor

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Life got you down? Afraid to turn on the news? Bank balance a bit scary? It might be time to revisit an old classic to remind yourself that all’s not bad. It might be time to revisit “Dead Poets Society,” a timeless film worth watching time and time again.

Robin Williams plays John Keating, an unorthodox teacher new to Welton Academy — an all-male elite prep school — who encourages his students to “seize the day” and follow their dreams. Students Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) and others are inspired by Keating and reinstate the Dead Poets Society, a club that gathers in a cave near their school to share poems, music and conversation.

Keating mentors his students through hardships involving their families, relationships and their own doubts and fears, guiding them to discovering their passions and self-worth. The students help each other as well through the pain and mysteries of adolescence, creating strong bonds among themselves. In the face of a tragic event the boys band together to get through it and then later help to defend Keating as their teacher.

As Keating, Williams imbues the film with both heart and humor, forming the emotional foundation of this moving story. Considered to be a national treasure, the late Mr. Williams earned seven Golden Globe Awards, two Emmy Awards and an Academy award for his role as Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting.”

Young Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke give strong, endearing performances as Neil Perry and Todd Anderson. Leonard, Hawke and the other young male actors in this film made me smile, gasp, laugh and cry. Their collective portrayal of the vulnerability, hope and angst of youth provided perfect complements to Williams’ warmth.

Cinematographer John Seale’s evocative camera work beautifully unifies the film, as does Maurice Jarre’s BAFTA (British Association of Film and Television Artists) award-winning score. Compared to his much-praised work in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), and “A Passage to India” (1984), the music for this film is somewhat of a departure, combining acoustic and electric music that lends a more contemporary feel. Seale’s other films include such notable releases as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Rain Man.”

The Academy Award-winning screenplay by Tom Schulman crackles with motion and great dialog, one reason why the film is both inspiring and thought provoking. Schlman’s incorporation of poetry throughout the script is both imaginative and highly effective.

Writer, producer and director Peter Weir is best known for his works “The Truman Show” (1998), and “Witness” (1985) and has made in total of 18 films. Weir has earned six academy award nominations and had won three BAFTA awards. His direction of this film was sure, as to be expected, sure-footed.

Filming took place in Middletown, New Castle, Wilmington, Delaware with many scenes filmed at St. Andrew’s school in Middletown. The location work provided an authentic school setting.

This is a timeless coming of age film — relatable, emotional, inspiring and full of important life lessons: Among them is that we have a responsibility to enjoy our lives, to as Williams channeling Thoreau notes, “suck the marrow out of life.”

That’s a lesson worth remembering, and this is a great film for when you’re feeling down and need a pick me up. It’s also a great reminder of what a gifted teacher can do to inspire his students..

“Dead Poets Society,” which also won two BAFTA awards for best film and best original film score, is available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, iTunes and Vudu.

The movie’s running time is slightly over two hours.

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The student news site of Johnson State College
Revisiting “Dead Poets Society”: a film with both heart and humor