Dead Poets Society; Why is it so Impactful?

3 mins read

By Mairin Hoffman ’25

I have been a film lover since a very young age and have seen many movies that impacted me differently. Everyone has that movie; the one that makes them cry until they can’t breathe, the ones that make you unable to sleep at night, and the ones that are just comforting to us. 

Dead Poets Society is a movie that fills all these categories. It is emotional, realistic, and hopeful throughout all of it. It has been cited as one of the greatest inspiration films by many critics and just regular viewers, as it makes them look at the world differently.

You may have heard of Dead Poets Society and not think anything of it; I used to hear it all the time and had no clue what it was about. You may have heard one of its famous quotes, “O Captain, My Captain.” It is about a group of boys at a prestigious all-boys school, Welton Academy, set in Vermont in 1959. John Keating (Robin Williams) introduces a new English teacher at Welton. The school is known for its strict teaching methods and old-fashioned traditions. Mr. Keating uses unorthodox teaching methods to reach out to his students and open them up in a way they are not accustomed to. These students face enormous pressure from their parents. Inspired by his teaching, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) and other boys learn that when Mr. Keating was studying at Welton, he was a part of the Dead Poets Society, where students would recite poetry in a cave outside school grounds. They decide to revive the Dead Poets Society, as Mr. Keatings’ teaching inspires them, so they begin to rehearse poetry daily. However, a dramatic turn of events happens, and tragedy unfolds.

I watched Dead Poets Society during the summer, feeling sad and missing FGS, the place I call home. Afterward, I felt empty because of the reliability of the movie and how the pressures of parents can cause tragic results. The movie had such a significant impact because it tells us to celebrate what drives us in our lives and encourages us to “seize the day” (carpe diem). In the movie, Neil Perry wants to be an actor and joins the school play without his father’s permission. From the very beginning of the movie, we can see Neil’s father be incredibly strict about his academics and future, not leaving him any space to do things Neil wants. Once Neil’s father finds out, he demands Neil to quit the play. The issue is that the play’s opening show is the following evening, and Neil plays the lead. Mr. Keating encourages Neil; “You have to talk to him. You have to show him who you are, what your heart is.”. Neil listens to Mr. Keating and stays in the play. His father eventually shows up at the play, brings him home, and announces sternly that he is unrolling him from Welton, and putting him in Military School. This breaks Neil’s heart, as his whole life and whole joy is Welton and the Dead Poets Society

Neil is shattered, and his father demands Neil to tell him how he feels, but Neil just replies with “Nothing.”. One of the most heartbreaking lines of the film is “I was good. I was really good.” His father’s expectations eventually result in his death, showing how societal expectations can destroy a young individual. Mr. Keating uses poetry and literature to identify his students’ goals, desires, and dreams, to help them break free from the stereotypical mold of a male during the 1950s. Everyone who attends a boarding school must watch this movie. You all understand the feeling of adoring a teacher, and then having a friend who impacts you immensely. The ending was heartbreaking, and I refuse to spoil it, because you need to watch this movie as soon as you can! 

This movie has inspired many people to become teachers, and many are still teachers today. I was talking to my father about this movie, and he said he wanted to become a teacher right after seeing it. My father is a history teacher at Trinity-Pawling School and has been since 2000.  I think that alone shows this movie’s impact. Even though thirty three years have passed since the film’s release, it remains one of the most influential and touching films of our era. 

Photo curtsey The Guardian

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