We were interested to watch this performance of Robin Williams that moved away from his usual frenetic mode and into something more serious. This is one of William's better performances, as John Keating, the inspiring and unorthodox teacher of English Lit at a prep school. We also wanted to see it because we happened to move recently to the very town where Dead Poets Society was filmed. It was fun to see some of the places we know so well transformed by a filmmaker's eye. (We have a lot of migratory birds in Spring and Fall, and a pretty lake, a wonderfully restored old theater. These were all used marvelously in the film.)
The story is simple--Keating comes to teach English at his alma mater and wants to crash the ultra-conventional, don't-think-just-march-in-step-and-make-money attitudes his students are being indoctrinated in. Many students simply ignore Keating, but a few are taken with his message of free thinking. Two students, roommates, Neil and Todd (Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke) become ardent followers of Keating's Carpe Diem philosophy. But Neil's father has other plans for him. He is, in fact, stealing a second life from Neil and doing, via his son, what he wished he'd done. Not very fair, not nice, and tragedy is sure to result.
We learn so little that the film becomes a bit mawkish. The moments at the end were tragic and touching--yet I would have bawled my eyes out had I been given a bit more bread and less cake frosting. Still, I like the film and we can always watch it for the lake and the migrating geese, and our beautiful Delaware sunsets.