|Dead Poets Society|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Weir|
|Written by||Tom Schulman|
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Edited by||William Anderson|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution|
|Box office||$235.9 million|
Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American teen drama film written by Tom Schulman, directed by Peter Weir, and starring Robin Williams. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.
The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Robin Williams. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the César Award for Best Foreign Film and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film. Schulman received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work.
In the autumn of 1959, Todd Anderson begins his senior year of high school at Welton Academy, an all-male, elite prep school. He is assigned one of Welton's most promising students, Neil Perry, as his roommate and meets Neil's friends: Knox Overstreet, Richard Cameron, Stephen Meeks, Gerard Pitts, and Charlie Dalton.
On the first day of classes, they are surprised by the unorthodox teaching methods of the new English teacher, John Keating. A Welton alumnus himself, he encourages his students to "make your lives extraordinary", a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem, meaning "seize the day."
Subsequent lessons include having them take turns standing on his desk to demonstrate ways to look at life in a different way, telling them to rip out the introduction of their poetry books which explains a mathematical formula used for rating poetry, and inviting them to make up their own style of walking in a courtyard to encourage them to be individuals. His methods attract the attention of strict headmaster Gale Nolan.
Upon learning that Keating was a member of the unsanctioned Dead Poets Society while he was at Welton, Neil restarts the club and he and his friends sneak off campus to a cave where they read poetry and verse, including their own compositions. As the school year progresses, Keating's lessons and their involvement with the club encourage them to live their lives on their own terms. Knox pursues Chris Noel, an attractive cheerleader who is dating Chet Danburry, a football player from a local public school whose family is friends with his.
Neil discovers his love of acting and gets the role as Puck in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, despite the fact that his domineering father Thomas wants him in the Ivy League (and ultimately medical school). Keating helps Todd come out of his shell and realize his potential when he takes him through an exercise in self-expression, resulting in his composing a poem spontaneously in front of the class.
However, Charlie takes things too far when he publishes an article in the school newspaper in the club's name demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. Nolan paddles Charlie to coerce him into revealing who else is in the Dead Poets Society, but he resists. Nolan also speaks with Keating, warning him that he should discourage his students from questioning authority. Keating does admonish the boys (in his manner), warning that one must assess all consequences.
Thomas discovers Neil's involvement in the play and forces him to quit on the eve of the opening performance. Devastated, Neil goes to Keating, who advises him to stand his ground and prove to Thomas that his love of acting is something he takes seriously. Thomas unexpectedly shows up at the performance. He takes Neil home and says he has been withdrawn from Welton, only to be enrolled in a military academy to prepare him for Harvard so he will become a doctor. Unable to find the courage to stand up to his father, and lacking any support from his concerned mother, a distraught Neil commits suicide.
Nolan investigates Neil's death at the request of the Perry family. Cameron blames Neil's death on Keating to escape punishment for his own participation in the Dead Poets Society, and names the other members. Confronted by Charlie, Cameron urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Cameron and is expelled. Each of the boys is called to Nolan's office to sign a letter attesting to the truth of Cameron's allegations, even though they know they are false. When Todd's turn comes, he is reluctant to sign, but does so after seeing that the others have complied and succumbing to his parents' pressure.
Keating is fired and Nolan (who taught English at Welton before becoming headmaster) takes over teaching the class, with the intent of adhering to traditional Welton rules. Keating interrupts the class to gather his leftover belongings. As he leaves, Todd--finding his voice--reveals to Keating that the boys were intimidated into signing the paper that sealed his fate, and Keating assures Todd that he believes him. Todd then stands up on his desk, with the words "O Captain! My Captain!", which prompts the other members of the Dead Poets Society (except for Cameron), as well as several other students in the class, to do the same, to Nolan's fury and Keating's pleased surprise. Touched by this gesture, Keating proudly thanks the boys and departs.
Peter Weir had been eager to follow up his two US breakthrough hits with Harrison Ford, Witness and The Mosquito Coast, with a romantic comedy starring Gérard Depardieu as a Frenchman who marries an American for convenience called Green Card. Depardieu was in high demand following his success in the Provençal drama Jean de Florette and Weir was advised he would have to wait a year for his availability.
In late 1988, Weir met with Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney (which produced the movie via Touchstone Pictures), who suggested Weir read a script recently received. On a flight back to Sydney, Weir was captivated and six weeks later returned to Los Angeles to cast the principal characters.
The original script was written by Tom Schulman, based on his experiences at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, particularly with his inspirational teacher Samuel Pickering. In Schulman's manuscript, Keating had been ill, slowly dying of Hodgkin lymphoma with a scene showing him on his deathbed in hospital. This was removed by Weir who deemed it unnecessary, claiming this would focus audiences on Keating's illness and not on what he stood for.
Early notes on the script from Disney also suggested making the boys' passion dancing rather than poetry as well as a new title Sultans of Swing focusing on the character of Mr. Keating rather than the boys themselves, but both were dismissed outright.
Filming started in the winter of 1988 and took place at St. Andrew's School and the Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware, and at locations in New Castle, Delaware, and in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. During the shooting, Weir requested the young cast not to use modern slang, even off camera.
The worldwide box office was reported as $235,860,579, which includes domestic grosses of $95,860,116. The film's global receipts were the fifth highest for 1989, and the highest for dramas. The film was released in the United Kingdom on September 22, 1989, and topped the country's box office that weekend.
Dead Poets Society holds an 84% approval rating and average rating of 7.28/10 on Rotten Tomatoes based on 57 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Affecting performances from the young cast and a genuinely inspirational turn from Robin Williams grant Peter Weir's prep school drama top honors." The film holds a score of 79 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade.
The Washington Post reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance".Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised Williams' "exceptionally fine performance", while noting that "Dead Poets Society ... is far less about Keating than about a handful of impressionable boys".Pauline Kael was unconvinced about the film, and its "middlebrow highmindedness", but praised Williams. "Robin Williams' performance is more graceful than anything he's done before [-] he's totally, concentratedly there - [he] reads his lines stunningly, and when he mimics various actors reciting Shakespeare there's no undue clowning in it; he's a gifted teacher demonstrating his skills."
Roger Ebert's review was largely negative, only giving the film two out of four stars. He criticized Williams for spoiling an otherwise creditable dramatic performance by occasionally veering into his onstage comedian's persona, and lamented that for a movie set in the 1950s there was no mention of the Beat Generation writers. Additionally, Ebert described the film as an often poorly constructed "collection of pious platitudes ... The movie pays lip service to qualities and values that, on the evidence of the screenplay itself, it is cheerfully willing to abandon."
On their Oscar Nomination edition of Siskel & Ebert, both Gene Siskel (who also gave the film a mixed review) and Ebert disagreed with Williams' Oscar nomination; Ebert said that he would have swapped Williams with either Matt Dillon for Drugstore Cowboy or John Cusack for Say Anything. On their If We Picked the Winners special in March 1990, Ebert chose the film's Best Picture nomination as the worst nomination of the year, believing it took a slot that could have gone to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
Dead Poets Society won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Tom Schulman). Peter Weir received a nomination for Best Director and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture of 1989. Robin Williams received his second Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination and it has since been widely recognized as one of the actor/comedian's best roles. The movie also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.
A theatrical adaptation written by Tom Schulman and directed by John Doyle opened Off-Broadway on October 27, 2016, and ran through December 11, 2016.Jason Sudeikis stars as John Keating with Thomas Mann as Neil Perry, David Garrison as Gale Nolan, Zane Pais as Todd Anderson, Francesca Carpanini as Chris, Stephen Barker Turner as Mr. Perry, William Hochman as Knox Overstreet, Cody Kostro as Charlie Dalton, Yaron Lotan as Richard Cameron, and Bubba Weiler as Steven Meeks.
The production received a mixed review from The New York Times, with critic Ben Brantley calling the play "blunt and bland" and criticizing Sudeikis's performance, citing his lack of enthusiasm when delivering powerful lines.