Many of us will spend our fall breaks combing through the depths of Netflix, binge-watching all of the shows on our list by Friday. Guilty as charged. But as we begin fall break, between our naps and movies, maybe we should take a step back and look at the panoramic view of what we’ve been putting our energy into this semester. Homework. Midterms. All important things to which we’ve given countless hours. Our passions? Our relationships? Sadly, not as much.
A group of seventeen-year-old students recognized the importance of their passions, as you hear the voices echoing, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” With this proclamation, every meeting of the Dead Poets Society begins, a brotherhood in pursuit of living the fullest life.
The 1989 film, Dead Poets Society, follows a group of high schoolers attending a men’s boarding school founded on tradition, legalism and conformity, and Mr. John Keating, their non-conformist English teacher played by Robin Williams, who pushes them to “seize the day,” his mantra throughout the movie.
Alongside Williams stars Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry, known for playing Dr. James Wilson in House, and Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson, who are roommates at Welton Academy. Mr. Keating has just been hired as a teacher at Welton and graduated from Welton himself, as Todd, Neil and their friends soon discover while flipping through an old yearbook. The boys have a fondness and admiration for Mr. Keating as a mentor and role model to them, something many of the young men haven’t found in their parents, much less their strict teachers at Welton.
When Mr. Keating was at Welton Academy as a student, he began a group called the Dead Poets Society. “The Dead Poets,” Mr. Keating tells them, “were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life…We were romantics. We didn’t read poetry, we let it drip from our tongues like honey. Spirits soared, women swooned and gods were created, gentlemen. Not a bad way to spend an evening, ay?” I’d say, and so would Neil, Todd and their friends.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Keating, the young men reestablish the Dead Poets Society. The boldness instilled into the students by Mr. Keating empowers Todd to overcome his insecurities in writing poetry, emboldens Neil to pursue his dream of acting even though his father is firmly against the pursuit, and their fellow classmates become fearless in their own dreams throughout the movie.
This is a “feel-good” movie in many ways, but a challenging and untraditional one as well, a balance that isn’t often found and a treasure to be appreciated when it is. Robin Williams’ portrayal of Mr. Keating is endearing and gentle, and the screenwriting for his character is exceptional, as he’s not only a poetry teacher but a poet in his own right.
The movie daringly questions: What is freedom? And Mr. Keating, in his charming, fatherly way, answers the question through his actions. Freedom is found in the willingness to choose “the road less traveled” for the sake of your passions, regardless of the roadblocks that others may erect before you.
Throughout the movie, I found myself asking: How am I “sucking the marrow out of life” while at Union? How do my priorities in this season lay the foundation for a life well-lived? Maybe we can mix our Netflix binge-watching this fall break with our pensiveness looking forward to the rest of the semester. So, grab a cup of hot apple cider as Dead Poets Society challenges you to return from fall break pursuing your dreams, thinking freely and living fully, even in the nitty-gritty of the semester.