Dead Poets Society

05 Jan

Holy crap, TV starts coming back next week?  That seems way too early.  Good news for you guys, however: that means you’re getting some more Movies Alaina’s Never Seen.

I couldn’t decide what to watch, so I broke out Ye Olde Martini Shaker of Choosing with new slips (since the last time I used the Shaker, I had to delete, like, 90% of them.  So instead of twenty, I’ve got seven to choose from.  I probably didn’t need the martini shaker, but, y’know: tradition).  And apparently, the Martini Shaker of Choosing thought that it’s been a while since I did a movie that was actually on The List:

2014-01-03 23.00.46

Oh hey, pajama pants – I forgot those would show up on the Internets. 

Oh, Dead Poets Society.  So much grief – although, not nearly as much as with the Goddamned Shawshank Redemption.  And yes, that is how I will be referring to it from now on, and no, I will not be italicizing it, either.

If y’all have ever wondered what Friend Brad sounds like when he’s astonished at a movie I’ve never seen, let’s pull back the curtain on an actual conversation we had (via email) wherein he learns that I’d never seen Dead Poets Society:

Brad: … Makes you think.  Carpe diem.  I know it’s a cliché, but anytime I can reference DPS, I feel it needs to be said.
Me: You’re gonna hafta help me out with something … “reference DPS”?  What does DPS stand for?
Brad: OMG and WTF … DPS is Dead Poets Society, one of Brad’s Top 10 movies of all time!  Seriously??

IN MY DEFENSE, when I took a non-scientific survey on Facebook, no one else ever refers to it as DPS.  Apparently, DPS is for lazy typists and those with carpal tunnel syndrome.  To which I said: ‘seems legit.’

dead poets society

So here’s what I know about Dead Poets Society before I start:

It stars Robin Williams as an English teacher at a boys’ academy.  Young Josh Charles (Will from The Good Wife, or my forever favorite, Dan Rydell from Sports Night) and Young Dr. Wilson from House, Robert Sean Leonard are some of his students.  Robin Williams is a crazy teacher, and asks them to stand on their desks at some point.  He also teaches them the importance of seizing the day (carpeing the diem), and the poem “O Captain, My Captain.”  The students form a society that worships dead poets.   There’s a tragedy, and at the end of the movie, Robin Williams either dies, or he’s fired, and the class recites “O Captain, My Captain,” and Brad cries.

So … that’s what I’ve got.  And I know I’m on the right path, because Friend Britney confirmed that I was right about a good amount the movie.  I also believe that I won’t be snarking much about the movie – it’s supposed to be fabulous.  Did you notice how I didn’t make a joke about how the movie’s about a group of students that are haunted by a society of dead poets?  I didn’t make it because I go into this movie with a modicum of respect for it!  I don’t think that’s happened bef—oh no, I totally did that with the original Star Wars trilogy and The Court Jester.  So anyway – not much snark tonight, methinks. 

But just in case I’m wrong, I’ve got vodka.

English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.

Isn’t – isn’t that what I just said?  Damn, imdb.; sometimes you suck.

OO!  This was rated TV-MA on TCM!  Yay language!!  (Yeah, this was on Turner Classic Movies.  That’s kind of awesome and sad in a way, much in the same way I feel when I hear Nirvana on Dad’s classic rock station.)

We open on a dude taking out his bagpipes – that’s not a euphemism, by the way.  There are actual fucking bagpipes.  (heh – I just made a How I Met Your Mother reference and only a few people will get that.)  The bagpiper leads a procession of boys into a church, and my first gut instinct is to make a joke, but I promised myself I’d be good.  They’re lighting the light of knowledge, so this is clearly a chapel for the boarding school.  This takes place in 1959, and the chaplain or whoever asks the boys to recite the Four Pillars, which are Tradition, Discipline, Excellence, and … something I forgot that I’m not going to rewind for.  I have a feeling they’ll repeat it.

We see a glimpse of Robin Williams as John Keating, and it’s hard to reconcile his floppy haired “sober” persona with the crazy guy he’s been playing on The Crazy Ones this season.  (PS, that is one of my new favorite shows.  Robin Williams as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s father?  Fantastic!)

Holy crap, Dr. Wilson’s father is Eric Foreman’s father.  Mind blown.

The boys are gathering in Wilson’s dorm room, and he’s rooming with Ethan Hawke.  They’re all acting like Gryffindors before the Prisoner of Azkaban escapes when Mr. Foreman comes in and tells Wilson that he can’t be the editor of the academy paper because he’s taking too many extracurriculars.  But because this is 1959, he doesn’t exactly tell his dad to eat it.  Instead, they decide to actually have a study group, and I’ve clearly watched too much Community because my instinct is to wonder what crazy hijinks they’re going to get into.

We see a montage of stuffy asshole teachers – not turning in homework will result in points taken off final grades, three labs due in two weeks, etc.  And then we meet John Keating.  He’s whistling behind a door as the students file in for English.  As soon as they take their seat and prepare for yet more homework and syllabi, Keating walks out the door.  He pops his head back in and says, “Come on,” then heads back out.  Stunned, the boys get up and follow him, taking their books.  Oh, boys – you don’t always have to take your books!

Keating has some of the students recite verses of poems.  Pitts recites the one that starts “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” and then we hear the importance of carpe diem.  Keating has brought the students out to the hallway to show them the faces of previous students, most of whom are now apparently dead.  Keating tries to tell them that the dead students are the same as they are, and the message they’re giving to the current students is to seize the day to ensure they become extraordinary.

I echo one of those students’ thoughts in that the lesson was illuminating, yet extremely creepy, what with Keating leaning behind the other students and creepily muttering.

While Dan Rydell has dinner with some muckety-mucks, the rest of the Gryffindors are studying.  And I am still shocked that most of them are actually studying.  It’s like they’re all male versions of Hermione Granger.

The next day, Keating asks Wilson to read the introduction to their poetry book.  Even before I get to the (what I assume to be a) classic line, I’m calling shenanigans on 1950s poetry teachings.  Whoever that doctor that wrote it is trying to tell the students that you can plot poetry on an x-y axis.  What?  No, you – and then Robin Williams steps in and says “Excrement,” because as a teacher you can’t say “bullshit” in front of susceptible students.

He then tells them to not only rip out the math page from their poetry book, but the entire introduction.  I have a feeling Robin Williams is going to get in trouble for this.

Meanwhile, I think I’m going to love this movie, because Robin Williams is saying something I’ve been feeling for a very long time: “You will learn to savor words and language.  No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  How many times have I railed against language being used badly?  How many times have my fingers itched for a red pen?  How many times have I choked up at reading a series of words put together in a sequence that made my heart flutter? 

I am 27 minutes into this movie, according to my DVR, and I want to know why we never watched this movie in school.  I also want to know if I’m going to end up loving this movie for different reasons than some other people.

Anyway.  Keating can tell that one of his students is suspicious of this crazy behavior.  After all, he’s going to be a doctor – what does he need of poetry? 

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.  What will your verse be?

Oh, shit.  I’m hooked.  I’m going to put my netbook down and watch this for a while.  Carry on.

Okay, so Keating’s told them what the Dead Poets Society actually is, and a gang of students goes to recreate it, and I just have to mention that this movie was totally made in the 80s.  The scene where they’re running out to the cave in the fog?  I mean, seriously, I thought Bonnie Tyler was gonna show up and sing about total eclipses of the heart.

Aw, crew!  And … fencing!  Man, boys prep schools in the 50s had all sorts of opportunities for mayhem.

Speaking of mayhem, poetry has inspired Wilson to audition for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he gets the part of Puck.  Now he has to forge letters from his father and the headmaster to give himself permission.  O, 1950s, when forging was way easier than it is now. 

Wilson’s writing his poem while bagpipes are playing.  Insert How I Met Your Mother reference here.

And now the students are reciting the poems they wrote, and all I want is for someone to start by saying, “I hate the way you talk to me, and the way you cut your hair.”

But then Ethan Hawke stands up, and Ethan Hawke has been painfully shy.  He doesn’t want to recite his poem in front of the class, especially after the way the rest of the boys have laughed at everyone else.  But Keating won’t let it go, so he almost bullies Ethan into making up a poem on the spot, inspired by Walt Whitman.  It is brilliant, and – that asshole from Scrooged is back in my apartment chopping onions!  How does he keep getting in here?

On the night that Dan Rydell goes to a party, one of the other Dead Poets brings two girls to the Society meeting.  First of all, that 17-year-old grabbed two girls?  Dude’s got balls.  Secondly, he turned the meeting of the Dead Poets Society into a meeting of the Little Rascals’ “No Girls Allowed” club. 

But then the same student gets an article published in the school newspaper and signs it from the Dead Poets Society and shit comes downhill from the headmaster.  And then the kid gets paddled?  Damn!  I mean, I knew corporal punishment was a thing for a very long time, but on 17-year-olds?  Chalk that up to a thing I didn’t know.

Okay, so, a lot of things have happened.  Wilson’s Dad found out about the play and orders Wilson to drop it the night before the performance.  Holy shitsnacks, you guys – that is bullshit, and I’ve only seen that happen once before, and that was when the kid playing Macduff in our high school production of Macbeth collapsed after curtain call because he was ill with double pneumonia and his parents said he couldn’t act in the next two shows.  We finally got Macduff’s mom to compromise down to changing the final fight so it wasn’t so physically intense, but for an entire school day we were looking at recasting not only Macduff, but … oh shit, Duncan’s son, whatever his name was, and the Thane of Ross. 

Seriously, if you’ve never acted in a production of Macbeth, I beg you, don’t do it.  The curse is realer than real.  The aforementioned Thane of Ross?  The girl who played her had a minor cardiac incident two weeks before opening.  She was eighteen.

Anyway.  Back to the movie.  Dan Rydell is still trying to woo the girl he loves whose fiancé beat him up over her.  Oh, Dan.  Wilson blatantly lies to Robin Williams about talking to his father, makes up some bullshit about how his dad is in Chicago and he thinks he’ll be able to stay with acting, and it is such total bullshit that if I had smell-o-vision I could smell it.

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where a man plays Puck.  OH SHIT AND THEN WILSON’S DAD SHOWED UP I TOLD YOU THAT WAS BULLSHIT

Meanwhile, I give this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a B.  But it’s very refreshing to see a sold-out show of a high school production of Shakespeare.

Wilson’s Dad is not mellowed by Robin Goodfellow’s speech, and I have a sad feeling that Wilson is in for a world of hurt.

Twenty minutes later

Twenty minutes after that …
So now I’m not sure how I can talk about the movie without discussing the big spoiler, because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I had a feeling something like that was going to happen, but I would have pinned my money on somebody else.

I guess, the only thing I can really say about it is:

– I liked this movie a lot.  I found it very easy to get caught up in the action, almost in spite of some of the slower scenes.
– Having now seen the entirety of the movie, I can now understand why we never watched this in high school.  That is entirely too bad, because before you get to the tragic ending, it is a very inspiring movie.  And when I say ‘inspiring,’ I mean regarding the importance of English, language, poetry, and the written word.  And being able to think for yourself.  I mean, that prep school was just churning out lawyers, businessmen, and doctors – I’m sure that, without Keating’s influence, almost all of them would have ended up being huge sticks-in-the-mud.  But using poetry to remind those kids that passion and thinking for oneself is going to make your life more meaningful – I mean, that’s just such an important concept to me.

So that’s Dead Poets Society, I guess.  I’m not sure what the Martini Shaker of Choosing will choose next, but it’s always a good feeling to cross something as awesome as this off my list.

Sarah: Alaina!  You should watch Troll 2!
Me: …. Goddammit, Sarah.


Posted by on January 5, 2014 in The List


2 responses to “Dead Poets Society

  1. Alaina's friend Sarah

    January 6, 2014 at 12:09 am

    1) I really want to play Lady M, though! How can I do that without being in a production of Macbeth?!

    2) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production of Midsummer where Puck was *not* a man… except the one where Puck was me. And I didn’t *see* it, I *did* it.

    3) Expect no such excellence from Troll 2. Expect only rage, horror, and bewilderment.

  2. Alaina

    January 6, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    1) Staged reading? Maybe if we don’t use a set, or props, or costumes, and just read the thing it’ll bypass The Curse? Or we get a voodoo doll for one of the bit actors (that no one likes — there’s always *one*) and use that to direct the Curse JuJu to that guy? I would say do it outside of a theatre, but there’s lightning outside, and that will definitely end badly. Having said all that, it’s not like anyone *died* during the HS production I was in.

    2) I may be confusing my HS production of Midsummer with the HS production of The Tempest, wherein a girl did play Ariel … not sure. However, I can say that you are now the … the thing, damn, I can’t remember the word, but the person against which all future Pucks are judged.

    3) I didn’t think I would see excellence from something called Troll 2.

    4) I was going to make a joke about it being Troll 2: The Search for More Money, but I don’t want Spaceballs touching Troll 2.


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