Why You Should Rewatch "Dead Poets Society"
A classic film of the 80’s, Dead Poets Society is (and will always be) an old favorite. From my personal perspective, this is the kind of movie you could watch over and over again -- despite knowing exactly what is going to happen and when -- and still be able to unearth more and more meaning from it. Granted, I have only seen the film once, but I can assure you that I closely analyzed every scene to discover as much as I possibly could. I took note of every hint of symbolism that may or may not have been intentional, and studied the characters and their personalities inside and out. By the end of the movie, I realized that this film played upon certain human qualities and societal tendencies that have allowed it to reach a sense of timelessness. Despite being created nearly three decades ago, Dead Poets Society is shockingly relevant to today’s times; some of the issues that we dealt with as a society in the 80’s are issues we are still dealing with today.
For starters, school curriculums that put an emphasis on discipline and rule-following still inhibit the development of creativity among students. In the movie, an English teacher named Mr. Keating recognized the importance of individuality and expression in the classroom. He taught with compassion, leaving traditional teaching methods behind -- much to the disapprobation of other staff who used discipline and order to educate. (This long-established form of education was customary to the school’s tradition). Mr. Keating taught his students to think and feel freely -- something that was rarely emphasized in boys’ schools during the time, and that general education systems still lack today. Many public schools continue to limit teachers by forcing them to abide by a strict curriculum. For example, in humanities classes especially, essay-writing is taught through very stringent guidelines and structures, and creative writing is almost never taught at all. Most schools provide very little room for students to show individuality and develop their unique voices.
Parental pressure is yet another stagnant issue that continues to haunt young generations. Just like in Dead Poets Society, young people are trapped with the burden of pursuing a career or achieving a specific goal in order to satisfy their parents’ expectations, and they crumble mentally under such tiresome strains. The main character Neil Perry struggles and ultimately fails to convince his father to allow him to pursue his interest in acting. Neil holds his father in high esteem and understands the importance of committing fully to his education, but believes that participating in a school play will bring a more intrinsic and wholesome sense of purpose into his life -- not to mention some happiness as well.
Such a strain was so great for Neil that he felt as though ending his life was the only way out of this entanglement, and he did so at an age too early to fathom. Neil’s case is unfortunately not far off from situations that occur on a regular basis all around the world, especially in academically competitive environments like Ivy League universities. MIT alone reported a suicide rate of 12.5 per 100,000 students over the past 5 years. It should be noted that there is no evidence that these suicides were primarily caused by parental pressure alone, but the fact that they occurred at such an institution as MIT allows us to assume that some may have been caused by academic pressure, or pressure to succeed in general.
Dead Poets Society depicts some of society’s most pressing issues in an oddly endearing way, despite the lack of sugar-coating placed on heavy-duty cases like suicide. As much as it may continue to make us cry, Dead Poets Society is an absolute must-watch, as well as an absolute must re-watch. Aside from its commentary on society, it projects invaluable statements related to sexism, friendship, youth, and education. It’s a perfect film if you’re looking for something to get you thinking. It’s also on Netflix, so there truly is no excuse!