Director: Peter Weir.
Screenplay: Tom Schulman.
Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, James Waterston, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith, Melora Walters, Lara Flynn Boyle.
Robin Williams was predominantly known for his hilarity and exuberant sense of fun before he finally started to show that he had acting chops. In 1987, he received an Oscar nomination for “Good Morning Vietnam” and then, two years later, followed that up with another Best Actor nomination for “Dead Poets Society“. To this day, this still stands as one of his most appealing characters and performances.
Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) is sent to a school where his popular older brother was valedictorian. It’s here that he meets room-mate, Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) and many other bright young men, who have lots of potential but lack any real direction. That is, until they meet their new English teacher Professor John Keating (Robin Williams). He’s one of the few who sees the potential in them and encourages them to embrace life.
“Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.” These are the words that encapsulate this inspirational story about having a passion for – and “sucking the marrow out of…” – life. Professor Keating teaches in a very different and personal manner, quoting from such poets as Walt Whitman, Byron, Henry Thoreau and Robert Frost. He has a passion for what he teaches and shows a determination to instil that in his pupils. This passion also exudes onto the audience as we too, explore and enjoy the great writer’s and poet’s of our past and how rich and effective their words can be.
Director Peter Weir draws on his own experiences of a boarding school education and Tom Schulman’s script (partly based on his experiences at an all-boys preparatory school he attended and his professor there, Samuel F. Pickering Jr.) exposes the rigidity within the walls of such an environment. It’s to their credit, though, that they manage to bring a sense of hope to education and the joy and expression that lies therein. Filled with many visual and verbal poetic moments, Weir’s film is at times both haunting and beautiful with gorgeous cinematography by John Seale and an effective music score by Maurice Jarre.
There are also a whole host of very impressive performances from it’s young cast – an excruciatingly shy Ethan Hawke, being a particular standout. However, it all rests on the shoulders of Williams; he’s brilliant, with a very charismatic and heartfelt performance. He taps into his comic abilities, never over doing it and when he needs to deliver the dramatic weight, he does so with aplomb. You’re able to warm to him and be completely swept up in his infectious enthusiasm, in turn, allowing you to fully identify with his impressionable students.
At times the film can be emotionally manipulative and doesn’t always work but, for the most part, it’s very memorable and delivers one of the most uplifting movie endings I can remember.
What more can you ask from a film that’s able to instil thought, raise a smile and even shed a tear? Weir, Williams and co. manage all of these things and for that reason, I too, would gladly stand on my desk with an agreeing nod of respect – “Oh, Captain, my Captain!”