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Cinetreasure: Dead Poets Society (1989)


A passionate, eccentric, English professor changes his students' lives forever when he challenges them to live life to the fullest.


Stars: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke

Rating: PG


For director Peter Weir (Fearless, The Truman Show), good storytelling can be about a particular location and how the atmosphere of a place colors our lives.


The location itself provokes story, sets the mood, hints at an overall feeling, and suggests a certain energy and rhythm. Thus, Dead Poets Society unabashedly opens with the textures and patterns of an exclusive prep school and its cherished props that are part of specific rituals and traditions.


Over time, this location, though noble and distinguished, is shown to be constricting, demonstrating the notion that too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. Thus, new settings are introduced in keeping with new discoveries as impressionable youths uncover their destinies beyond hallowed halls.


It's not just the setting but movement within the setting that Peter Weir and his masterful cinematographer, John Seale (The Mosquito Coast, The English Patient) use to capture the story on film. Watch for a few, circular, camera movements that coincide with important character discoveries.


Each spark of discovery is instigated by Robin Williams's brilliant work as an unorthodox English professor who evokes the spirit of poets past and future in the manner of his teachings.


Known for his uncanny and unparalleled ability to add layers of character development through improvised dialog, Peter Weir credits Robin Williams as an actor who can "write" prolifically without ever touching a pen, on the spot, in the moment. You'll find some of his best work here and that magic spreads itself to the entire, highly competent cast.


Slow-motion photography can be a bit heavy-handed in evoking a certain mood or emotion but it's put to expert use in this film in two distinctly different ways; one in which the mystery of life is celebrated and one in which the loss of life is lamented.


Both scenes as well as other pivotal moments are accompanied by an eclectic, yet interesting choice of musical arrangements by Maurice Jarre (Witness, Ghost, Jacob's Ladder). The music elicits thought, inspires, and yet perfectly echoes all of the emotion and sentiment of each scene.


The dramatic events and visual storytelling build in intensity toward one of the most infuriating, charged, and perfectly executed endings ever created on screen.


Even the positioning of the characters in relation to one another was all calculated and staged to evoke a range of emotion that leaves the viewer wanting and needing to exact change in any kind of system that focuses too much on tradition and not enough on individuality of expression.


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