Peter Weir’s film appeared in the late 80’s, which resembled the 50s. These two eras were joined by the intention of Native American society to the welfare and the reluctance to delve into all the problems of the world. In the film, the new conservative college teacher, made his pupils realize that the world around is more complicated than it appears in a closed, cozy and predictable little world of private school. Having shot the film in a quite rare for the typical American movie genre of pedagogical poem about personal freedom, Weir addressed to the audience with the same message. Like his hero, the director tactfully and sensitively told the audience: there is something else in life besides career and money. And according to the good box office the audience agreed.
There is a heartbreaking scene at the beginning of the film. Kids say goodbye to their parents at the doorstep of Walton school, read as — being orphaned. Children pay off with tears and hugs, parents — with a considerable part of the family budget. Family relationships of heroes and their parents are reduced to one-sided ultimatum: you gotta, you gotta, you gotta! Niel’s father, one of the main characters of the film, seems almost a tyrant, but in reality he is a man of the middle class, who apparently paid a considerable personal price for his son’s future.
Union and typical similarities between the two main characters of the «Society» — classmates and roommates Neil and Todd — are not accidental. One begins acting as a confident leader of the class, the other — as a new-comer, a dumb, a stammerer. Their relationships copy collision from the satirical educational novel of Mark Twain «The Prince and the Pauper», where the twins — the heir of the British throne and the poor waif are swapped. Similarly, Neil and Todd switch the places: one overcomes his own weaknesses and acquires his voice (at the cost of hope loss), the other one will buckle under them and die therefore losing his voice (paying for success).
Birds — are one of the images of the film that the director often matches with images of students. The circular motion of birds flocking — and the circular movement of camera on the narrow stairs, where herds of pupils flounce about like in the cage: no one feels free here.
At the first lesson Keating immediately carries the students away into the hall, decorated with pictures of graduates at the beginning of the century. Pointing to the old pictures, the teacher has to say that the world of the living and the realm of the dead sometimes lock together, and the transition points are truly poetic moments. The teacher asks to read lines from a poem by Robert Herrick, «To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time and voices his first behest, a quotation from Horace: «Carpe Diem» (seize a moment.) Unfortunately, the most impatient perceive this instruction too literally, but it’s too late: the conception of still unnamed Dead Poets Society under the implicit Keating’s control has already happened.
The main conflict of the film — the battle of two directions: Romanticism against realism. Having asked students to pull out an essay about the method of rational analysis of poetry from the textbook, Keating defends romantic ideals described in the poems of his favorite authors: separation of form and content kills both the creation itself and the process of perception.
The forest is one of the key images of «Dead Poets Society». Not by chance, Neil’s debut on the stage is in Shakespeare’s play «A Midsummer Night’s Dream», where the forest is the main location. In the play the poetry of love and freedom prevails, while outside the forest prose dominates, mercantile calculations, the idea of a rational attitude to life.
In his film Peter Weir dared to investigate the formation of an elite American society in a particular classroom. The education system of the private boarding school is reduced not only to acquiring knowledge but to the comprehension of the social games rules, which are played in a civilized society. The prize for them is a perfect score — the recognition of the elders, or the right to show off one’s own superiority. From this point of view, Dead Poets Society — just a preparation for membership in the open and secret fraternities, which exist in every American university (such as «Skull and Bones» at Yale). From this point of view, Keating’s job is surely not the teaching of literature (his lessons look more like a show than a serious education), but preparing for school life. More precisely, he has them prepared for the trials that they have to go through to become a part of the country elite. And so, it turns out: the (надо убрать) Keating was sacked by the president of the school for he had not managed the task.
Todd is the only hero of the «Dead Poets Society» whose character changes finally that gives a reason to consider him as the main character of the film.«Describe what you see» — the teacher requires covering the eyes of the student with a pastoral gesture of his hand. And the student gives unconsciously rhyming lines. It worked out. It turned out, the problem was not in Todd’s shyness, but in his discreet trustfulness held up to this moment. In the sequence the football scene of triumph is arranged accompanied with meaningful music — Beethoven’s Ode «To Joy». This is the highest point of the movie: for the first time the boy acquires his voice.
The main themes of Shakespeare’s «Midsummer Night’s Dream," where Neil’s debut in the role of the forest spirit Puck, directly overlap with the main themes of the film: the prose and poetry of life, their collision, the death of the hero as a result of the conflict. Throughout the film Neil plays the roles and by the end he is about to lose his own voice. Theatre is the only place where he decides to turn to his father — from the stage with Shakespeare’s lines: " an honest Puck does swear, / so if, after all, / It were with no whistles, / We’ll fix everything, and clean…».
The crown of thorns on Neil’s head is an allusion to Jesus.
A hint to a pathetic monologue with curses addressed to Neil’s father crossed with sickness. This solution came to the director by the circumstances of the shooting: the actor playing Todd, Ethan Hawke, did not like his lines.
The poet Walt Whitman, a former school teacher, wrote a poem, «O Captain, My Captain» at President Lincoln’s death. Keating’s symbolic death was not in vain: his ideas will keep living in Todd. Saying goodbye to the teacher, he climbs up onto the desk and takes the part of a new, true leader. The rest of the pupils join him with expressing solidarity and worship to the former teacher. School children have grown, and the class has turned out into a monumental memorial. The boys died having transformed into the Dead Poets Society.
Todd has gained a cult of a true father, who he keeps looking all his life as at the creator of his own personality out of «Dead Poets Society» trousers.
Translated by Julia Sergeeva