Dead Poets Society
Looking back on "Dead Poets Society" now, it's sad that primarily what we have to thank it for are several bad novels from Ethan Hawke, as it seems like he got the inspiration to be a writer from this rather trite piece of crap. Who knows, perhaps he got the idea to propose to Uma Thurman from it too. Unfortunately, that doesn't negate the tragedy of his bad literature.
This film falls easily into one of my most hated categories of film: the "let's teach white rich kids some creativity because they're just so damn sad" genre. Here, a bunch of uncreative, sheepish rich white kids attend a prestigious preparatory academy and are content to do what the administration and their parents tell them. There's Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) whose dad (Kurtwood Smith) wants him to become a doctor. There's Tom Anderson (Ethan Hawke), who's stuck in an intellectual shell. There's Josh Charles, who desperately needs to get laid. All of them are under the thumb of the school's headmaster, Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd).
Then one day, John Keating (Robin Williams), a former-student-turned-teacher, walks in and teaches them creative thinking through the power of stand-up comedy. So, instead of studying to become a doctor, Neil tries his hand at acting. Tom decides to assert himself a little bit. Josh decides to ask out the hottest girl with a one-mile radius of the school. Ultimately, this leads to Neil committing suicide when his father forces him to quit acting.
Ultimately, the film asks whether it's better to live a life with passion or live a life without passion and self-righteously declares at the expense of Neil's life that it's better to be full of passion. What's even less convincing about the movie is that these schools are designed to teach the way they teach and they do it quite well. They teach the kids to do what they're told and follow into their rich parents worlds' and become rich themselves. If all these kids became poets and free-thinkers, it would cripple the business world. That's not the intention of the curriculum and it's not why parents send their children there. The kids are there to be indoctrinated into the world of rich white people.
Ultimately, Mr. Keating is partly responsible for Neil's death. He encourages him to challenge a domineering father at an age where Neil clearly doesn't have the resources to cope. This is why poetry teachers make really bad psychologists. Mr. Keating is living a fantasy. He's so wrapped up in his holier-than-thou "creativity is the answer to all things" attitude that he's divorced himself from reality and it ends up costing a young man his life and even though the film wants to celebrate that as a victory for creativity, it's really just a victory for the worms.
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