Dead Poets Society Movie Review

October 15, 2021

Carpe Diem. What does it mean to seize the day? Are we all destined for greatness? At the very least, the promise of exceeding one’s potential through sheer will is to be celebrated. It pushes an individual beyond his or her limits of possibility, breaking through the carapace that one is housed in socially, towards extending mankind to a destiny which was previously inconceivable. It is this moral affirmation of life which is consummately Western and on full display in the Dead Poets Society.

 

The school depicted is categorically stodgy. It seeks to imbue in young men the possibility of extending themselves, thereby extending their respective societies, towards greater plateaus of existence. The rhapsody of striving to master fate, and embracing the serpentine fangs as depicted in Laocoon and His Sons, is peculiar on the World-Lord’s Stage. To embrace this sense of courage in leading one’s life – far removed from social reinforcement of conformity and obedience – has perpetuated the Western ideal into the New World for several centuries, until we have its crystallization at the precipice of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.

 

It is in this reinforcement of strict adherence to law and order where students of this boarding school experience a wisp of the transcendent; a teacher of poetry played by Robin Williams who aspires to invoke the spiritual in his pupils. And by spiritual, we signify a means of connecting to his fellow brother of man which is far removed from the ambitions of distinguishing oneself in society through material gains. It is perhaps the reason Mr. Williams’ character returns to his alma matter to pedagogically instruct the young pupils on how to extend the thrill of living, which is simply the humanistic manifestation of the thrill of survival.

 

Yes, survival is thrilling. To evoke that perspective, rather than judge survival to be a tortuous and venomous penitentiary which afflicts human free will, separates the High Culture from its counter-opposite: one which affirms death and misery. And yet, how paradoxical it is that most people in contemporary life affirm the latter rather than the former! Such is the case with Neil’sfather and his relentlessly possessive ambitions to place his son into medical school, to the point of threatening practical disownment should his son, inspired by the thespian muse, elects to celebrate the humane inside of him; that which is expressly separated from animal form, and which can only be considered to be spiritual; an action, in other words, which moves humans alone in the known universe.

 

To free the mind to ponder such exquisite vistas, in that the ends of the spiritual are primary to man, ought to be relished and nourished in society. The pedagogical instruction of the future ought to savor this exclusivity of mankind in the world – he that, upon attaining such peace and prosperity, can burnish the spirit with such tumult that only a human can grow through such vacillations thereby extending human potential by himself.

 

The director Mr. Peter Weir does a fantastic job encapsulating the coming-of-age period of these young men’s lives, including the harrowing climax which confronts worldly ambitions with other-worldly progress in mankind. The enticement the young boys experience through, say, ripping up the first chapter of a pedantic and arbitrary measure of a poem’s worth – compared to say its elicitation in the soul – demonstrates the inevitable fate of the film in its abrasiveness in pedagogical instruction. Are young men destined to simply be meal tickets? Or they destined to achieve the impossible, simply because the impossible has not been considered achievable?

 

And what would the impossible be perceived as? How could a 19th century man believe that in less than a century a man would be able to stand on the moon? It is such audacity which has propelled Western History since its ancient history. While its fulmination arises in a millennium in a matured civilized history, it has piloted the conception of being human toward every-expanding reaches more than any other in the last 2,500 years. That one needs to embrace confrontation and adversity when seeking to extend the gift of harmony, and not be repelled by it, to strengthen the resolve of the soul, to further in its perfection, is the aim of every man’s destiny.

 

Grade: A

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