Bungee-Jumping to Eternity: The Existential Angst of Dead Poets Society

Part of ongoing series:  Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru the Stories We Live By

“Carpe Diem!  Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” -Mr. Keating (Robin Williams)

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

posterDead Poets Society, 1989 Oscar winner for best original screenplay, boasts an impressive Hollywood lineage. In addition to the best screenplay win for Tom Schulman,  Dead Poets earned a best director nomination for Peter Weir, a best actor nomination for Robin Williams and helped launch the careers of Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Before Sunset), as well as Emmy-nominated actors Robert Sean Leonard (House), and Josh Charles (The Good Wife). Not bad for a small budget film few imagined would grow into culture-shaping cinema.

It is also one of the best films ever made on the vocation of teaching. I rarely meet a teacher, professor, or youth minister who wasn’t deeply moved by their first encounter with Dead Poets Society.  It touches a nerve for anyone entrusted with the thrilling, yet delicate art of shaping young lives.

Mr. Keating’s brief sojourn at the fictional Welton Academy captures both the highest hopes and greatest fears of anyone who has ever stood in front of a classroom. As it turns out, worldview formation is as dangerous as it is fulfilling. Which brings me to my real point.

Worldview Transformation

Gather ye rose buds while ye may…

Dead Poets is also a tremendous film for anyone interested in the art of worldview formation in film and in life. First, it illustrates the power of mentors, texts, and communities in shaping worldview. Second, it gives soaring testimony to the power of Existentialism in the quest to escape the gravity of Physicalism into the intoxicating heights of Idealism.  Finally, it provides a troubling warning as to the power of nihilism to crush the dreams of the unsuspecting idealist. (For and explanation of Physicalism versus Idealism, see, It’s a Wonderful Worldview: Frank Capra’s Theistic Masterpiece.)

The Welton Worldview

Both in movies and real life, worldview change never comes easily. Human beings are insanely committed to maintaining the societal traditions and personal strategies we’ve carefully developed for managing our lives, even and especially when those strategies are counter-productive. Dead Poets does a wonderful job of detailing how good teachers expose the counter-productive flaws in their students’ worldview. And no worldview seems quite so flawed as that of the mythical Welton academy in which Dead Poets Society is set..

As a highly traditional 1950’s college preparatory academy, Welton is rooted in what appears to be a highly Physicalist (if somewhat religiously Deistic) worldview. (For and explanation of the four levels see, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview.)  In other words, the hard, pragmatic realities of the physical world are the only things that are “really real” at Welton.

The underlying story of Welton Academy is financial success, not personal exploration

Level 4—Story/Basis: The underlying story of Welton is success, or more specifically, the financial success and social status available to those who get into prestigious schools in order to gain entry into prestigious careers.

Todd Anderson’s (Ethan Hawke) disengaged parents may forget what they got him for his last birthday, but they know they want for his life–Valedictorian honors and a National Merit scholarship like his older brother. (Hint: The Welton Academy Yearbook is a great source for keeping characters straight.)

Neil Perry’s (Robert Sean Leonard) helicopter father may not listen to his son’s desires to write for the school newspaper (or become an actor), but he already has his son’s life planned out for him whether he likes it or not:

“You’re going to Harvard and becoming a doctor.”

Level 3—Values/Principles: Welton faculty and administration oblige their moneyed parents by creating an academy rooted in the values of “tradition, honor, discipline, excellence.” They celebrate “the light of knowledge” with religious trappings and a strong classical sense of morality, giving Welton a rather Deistic slant. All we really know about this distant God is that he doesn’t want girls at “Helton” distracting the “boys” (not men) from their studies. (The Welton Academy Yearbook is a great source for keeping characters straight.)

“Tradition, honor, discipline, excellence.”

Level 2 — Strategies/Culture: Accordingly, Welton’s academic culture is devoted to a highly traditional curriculum, and educational methodology.  We are offered brief glimpses into the strict world of “normal” Welton classrooms marked by rote memorization of Greek, Biology, and Calculus.

These are not the kind of classrooms a creative personality would cherish, but that’s just fine with most Welton students. They are just going through the motions doing whatever is necessary in order to gain parental approval and Ivy League admission.

Level 1—Action/Behavior: By the end of Act 1, it is clear that while Welton students may not particularly like the school, enjoy belittling its values, and despise their parent’s transference of their success stories upon their lives, they still go along with the flow in overall daily decisions.

The Keating Worldview

Enter the transformation artist

All this changes when the students enter the classroom of Welton’s newest teacher—Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). Like a character in Plato’s cave analogy, Keating has broken free of the bondage of Welton’s limited perspective, and returned to enlighten students still chained to the wall of shadows. Like Morpheus in The Matrix, Keating is determined to “free the minds” of his students in order to help them enter a larger, richer world of the liberal arts.

It is a beautiful story of how great teachers foster worldview change in their students. Keating employs a dizzying teaching arsenal of texts (Walt Whitman, etc.), music (The 1812 Overture), mentorship (“O Captain, my Captain”), learning exercises (standing on desk), challenge (“A sweaty-toothed madman”), and community (The Dead Poets Society) to captivate his students’ imaginations. While at first his classroom is merely, “Weird, but different,” it gradually becomes the focal point of their universe.

The worldview Mr. Keating wants his students to address is robust form of romantic Existentialism, rooted in Physicalism, yet rejecting its pragmatic pessimism.

Make your lives extraordinary!

Level 4—Story/Basis: Walt Whitman and the other romantic poets teach us that even though Physicalism may be scientifically true in that “we are all food for worms,” we can strive to make meaning out of our own brief lives by our own choices and values. Keating’s story is a radical rebellion against both Nihilistic Physicalism that insists that life has no meaning, and the Deism of Welton that insists we live only for the morality and stories of others.  Mr. Keating is not so much interested in his students’ embracing their parents’ story of financial/social success as he is that they live their own story.

Keating: We are food for worms, lads. Believe or not, each and every one of us in this room is going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die… Peruse some of the faces of the past (Welton students) …Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable. Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you: (whispered) ‘Carpe Diem! …Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Level 3—Values/Principles: Beyond the walls of the physical universe Keating points his students to the Idealistic realm of beauty, love, and meaning that eludes those trapped in the Physicalist worldview. Naturalistic Physicalism would tell us that the universe is a “box” limited by space and time, and accessible only through the physical senses. Our hearts tell us a different story.  There is something more to life than what we can touch, taste, hear, see, and smell.  Poetry points the way to this larger world of values, that can’t be measured “scientifically” like a “length of pipe”[1] nor explained with graphs like J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.

Keating then tells his students to rip out the entire introduction to their poetry textbook and has them “huddle up” to hear the real meaning of poetry (and life.)

Keating: We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Now, medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary for sustaining life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

This speech is a stunning description of Existential Idealism in its purest Romantic form. And it will not be the last.

Seeing the world from a new perspective

Level 2—Strategies/Culture: Keating’s goal is for his students to stop mimicing and reciting the words of others, and “find your own voice,” and “Learn to think for yourselves again.”

On top of his desk, he gets them to consider life from a new perspective. In the courtyard, he gets them to fall into the trap of walking in conformity to the life of those around us. On the soccer field, he inspires them to reach their full potential.

Watch desk scene here.

Freedom from Physicalism

As I said above, it is liberal arts education at its finest. He is using the arts to liberate his students from seeing life only from their own tradition and preconceptions. (See, The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts.) It is a breathtaking and soul stirring tour de force his students find nearly iresistible.

Slowly, Keating’s students begin to break free from the suffocating gravity of a Physicalist worldview, in order to embrace the broader Idealistic world he has opened up for them….

Level 1—Action/Behavioral: Of course, the movie only gets going once some of the boys actually start acting on Mr. Keating’s worldview.

And that is where the story really gets interesting!

Next: Ideas Have Consequences: The Power and the Limits of Existentialism, Dead Poets Society, Part 2

 

See also:

Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through the Stories We Live By

Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview: Why Everyone Meets at Rick’s 

Crash goes the Worldview: Why Worldview Transformation Requires Changing Scripts

It’s a Wonderful Worldview: Frank Capra’s Theistic Masterpiece

Bungee-Jumping to Eternity: The Existential Angst of Dead Poets Society

Deep Culture: Is Winning an Oscar a Reliable Indicator of a Truly Great Film?

The Blind Side leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories

Related Posts:

Using Zombie Movies to Teach Politics, by Daniel W. Drezner

The Joker Is Satan, and So Are We: René Girard and The Dark Knight, by Charles Bellinger

Echoes of René Girard in the Films of Martin Scorsese: Scapegoats and Redemption on ‘Shutter Island,’ by Cari Myers

Hitchcock and the Scapegoat: René Girard, Violence and Victimization in The Wrong Man, by David Humbert

 

Notes



[1] Perhaps an allusion to George Bailey’s objection to his father’s commitment to the Building and Loan in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 

78 Replies to “Bungee-Jumping to Eternity: The Existential Angst of Dead Poets Society”

  1. Great reflection! It's hard to break free and write your own story, however, I to am starting to do so. Slowly but surely. Have fun with your journey and yes, don't' forget to dance with the one who brought you.

  2. What did I get from this movie? Here’s a couple quotes from the movie that I wrote down; quotes that spoke to me: “Free thinker, what will your verse be, conformity, find your own voice, realist, unique.” I feel I’m a lot like Neil. I can see it, I can taste it, and I’ve even had the opportunity to be a part of it, yet, the physical side stops me.
    For me it’s not my dad. What’s stopping me is the real world. I have a wife and two daughters; I have priorities, a home to pay for, LIFE. Life is going real fast and it doesn't wait for no one. How do I change it? Well, for me I believe change is coming. It’s movies like this and my past two years at school that is beginning to show me how that change happens.

  3. Teachers can have an influence on their students and I have had teachers and even 'a book' that has touched and/or impacted my life. The movie demonstrates the impact and the clash of the worldviews and the experiences of the teachers, the students, the parents and even the institution and how the characters worldview was shifted or changed forever. Teaching is so many things and finding the balance of traditions, ethics, truth, curriculum, policy, rules and regulations would not be an easy task. The movie had a tragic ending when Neil decided his life was not worth living and is a sad reminder of how precious life is.

  4. In thinking about the movie, I just couldn't connect with the themes as much as I might have, say when I was in high school. I can definitely see the extreme romantic notions of existentialism brought forth, but don't think the movie did a very good job of showing the consequences of this worldview. I agree with Tom in that Neil's suicide wasn't brought on in retrospect of this paradigm shift in his new worldview (courtesy of Mr. Keating) but years of not living the life he wanted under the crushing weight of his father's expectations.

  5. The Dead Poets Society is a great movie. It reminds us that we are unique and that we are responsible for our own destiny. It inspires students and teachers to follow an idealist worldview. Unfortunately, in most traditional school settings, we learn by reciting and replicating the ideas of free thinkers and inventors. Life becomes busy enough that it prevents us from acting upon our own ideas and creations.

  6. What I learned about from watching the Dead Poets Society is how we as individuals have to learn to take a stance against our loved ones when it comes to following our dreams. The group that resurrected the Dead Poets Society all were struggling with maintaining their individuality. I was hurt by the way Neil ended his life and wish his parents would have taken the time to listen to his dreams and future desires. The movie just make me think back to how I deal with raising my daughter and teaching her that she is an indivdual and should take pride in following her dreams and remaining an individual.

    1. Great comment, following our path against the status quo is extremely difficult. Fortunately, we encounter people in our lives who remind us that we are also special and that our ideas are unique.

  7. Writing our own stories…this is a great way to break the cycle of unhealthy or unproductive living. I think that some people are able to do this on their own. I also think that some people could really benefit from a positive mentor. Others may find themselved as partially "rewritten" — that life is somewhat better, but not completely. It is these people that might start writing again and finish what they started. I think this fits for those of us that are adult students.

  8. This was the first time that I have watched Dead Poet's Society. I have to admit, it started out very slow. Maybe I am just used to having movies practically slap me in the face with action; this was not like that at all. I did find it very interesting and I was amazed at the boy's committment to Mr. Keating's class. This committment is most certainly as a result of the unique teaching style that was presented. I was inspired by Mr. Keatings style and I am hopeful that my own children may have such a teacher someday. It is hard not to make comparisons to oneself. I couln't help but to look back at some of my own practices and silly things that I have said…all in the name of "because that's the way we have always done it". The ending of the movie was just appalling. My impression was that Neil's father had not learned a thing and that he certainly was not going to consider that he was the problem. The losers in this story are Neil, Mr. Keating, the boys, and even future generations of students at the school. I'm not sure who the winners are…maybe the winners are those of us that have watched this film and taken it to heart.

    1. Colleen, I agree the movie did start out very slow, but I was inspiring to see the committment of a dedicated teacher to his students. I was also impressed at how the boys of Mr. Keating's class finally took a stance on standing p for what they believed in.

    2. Collen,
      I feel the same way the beginning of the movie it is slow. I also see the students as winners, yes there was a tremendous lost, Neil's life. I can see the transformation of Todd's worldview how he was able to move talk and speak up about what was wrong and the rest of the students that follow him… I see them as winners!! Mr. Keating inspired them and in influence their worldviews in relatively "small" amount of time and for that I see them as winners they will not see the world the same.

  9. Dead Poets Society

    This was the second time seeing this movie and it still remains a very potent reminder to live your life to the fullest. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher like Keating in seventh grade and he was wonderful. He taught us music at a Catholic School, and you may have thought the curriculum would be boring or stiff, but we sampled artists from Aaron Copeland to Pink Floyd and learned to write and read music. I have never forgotten him, just as the students in Keatings class will never forget him. They may conform for the the moment but a light will remain in them from his teachings forever.

    The headmaster in particular irritated me. Did you notice anytime he was about to speak, he told the boys to "Sit"? I found that rather demeaning and reinforced the demand for conformity at Welton.

    I was very saddened by Neil's fathers actions and the ulitmate loss he suffered becuase of his inability to really hear his son. This was a great reminder to listen to your kids and as stated in an earlier post to keep the lines of communication open.

    1. Jennifer…Carpe Diem, that is exactly what Mr. Keating taught his boys of the resurrected Dead Poets Society. I was furious how the school administrators forced the boys to sign a document that was clearl false, but to not go against their parents they signed it anyways. So, of course the most enlightening part of the movie is when all the boys stood on the desk to stand p for their rights.

    2. I am a firm believer that a line of communication should always be open. Whenever a parent loose a child it is always sad. I was very sadden about Neil's death. You should let your children be themselves and explore life with the support of their parents.

  10. I have seen Dead Poets Society many times before, as it is a great movie. I was able to see the movie differently this time. I am seeing now where Keating is helping the students to see the world through different views. It was very powerful when Todd stood up in front of the class during the “Sweaty Tooth Mad Man” scene. Mr. Keating really brought him out of his shell. He has been living in his brothers shadow all of his life and his parents haven't realized what this has done to him as an individual. Mr. Keating was encouraging him to be his own person. He helped all of the boys move away from physicalism and move to an existentialism world view. I really believe that Mr. Keating’s teaching styles, although out of the ordinary for the rest of the school really taught more of a lesson than the other teachers. The boys were encouraged rather than put down and bored with the normal standard curriculum.

    1. I thought the same, what a terrible circumstance for those kids. Teachers like Keating make all the difference in the classroom. I am seeing that firsthand with my 14 year old. If he does not connect with the teacher on some level he does not get much out of the class.

    2. I would add that not only were the students changed by the teachings of Keating but at some level the Head Master of the school must have been asking the question " how does Keating do it". I wonder if the firing of Keating was partly due to the insecurity the headmaster felt. I remember some where in the movie the headmaster said he started teaching in the room Keating taught in. Great movie to watch with my kids as it has them asking some new questions about worldviews. It seems the whole family is getting into the movie watching part of this class. Very Cool.

    3. I too have seen the movie before but it was refreshing seeing it through different lens. It was encouraging to see Todd stand up for his captain at the end. There's no way anyone can deny someone who has made a deep impact in their life.

  11. I can completely understand why Neil couldn't break free from his father…I relate. I liken myself to Cameron's character in some ways. Cameron was always concerned with what he "should do" or what people thought of him and if he was doing the "right thing." The more I think about it that is how I have lived my life; more concerned with how I "should" act and what I "should" do than what I really want. It's hard to be an idealist when you've always been pushed to "keep up with the Jones."

    1. I can relate to you and Cameron as well. It is very difficult to break away from the way things should be handled. I too am much like Cameron, although I am not able to persuade others to do the same. I actually sit back and wish I had the strength to do what I want to do. I find myself jealous of those that can speak up for themselves. I do feel that my current role at work has helped me to "come out of my shell" and encourages me to speak up.

    2. Jessica, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to be my own individual self. I was raised to love my parents but at the same time think and act for myself.

    3. I agree. It is hard to break away from the "norm". Sometimes it seems easier to go with the flow and put our ideas and dreams on the side. It is hard to take risks but without them, we may never know the outcome.

    4. Good point Jessica. Cameron was made out to be a "bad guy" for not standing up for Mr. Keating. Cameron was under a lot pressure, and after all, he was only a teenager. I was never much of a rule breaker in my youth, perhaps more of a rule "bender."

      I also understand Neil. My father was a loving man, but also very authoritative. We had a huge generational gap, he was definitely "old school" and commanded respect. Luckily, I was able to understand him enough to find his softer side.

  12. It was the first time I had seen Dead Poets Society. I really enjoyed the movie and each character and the part they played in the movie. I loved the slogan of Mr. Keating, ‘Carpe Diem! – Seize the day, boy. Make your lives extraordinary.” He wanted each of the boys to know that there is something more to life than what we can touch, taste, hear, see and smell. Keating wanted the boys to learn to think for themselves. He was always inspiring them to go for the gold or their highest potential. Mr. Keating had a way to free the young men from physicalism and feel the power of existentialism along with the world of ideals. I admired Mr. Keating’s teaching style and believe he really had a heart for the boys and cared about each individually. I thought the movie had a good story to it and we should all seize the day!

    1. Linda, I had not watched the film befire either. And, I too really enjoyed the movie. When I say "enjoyed", I mean that I found it interesting and valuable. For me, it was not really a fun or uplifting movie. Mr. Keating was a great teacher.

    2. I wonder if more teachers could be like Mr. Keating if our educational system was less bureaucratic.

  13. I had never seen this movie before and I absolutley loved it! What a great example when all that you care about is what you can see and feel….the physical world. The most beautiful scene for me in this movie was when Anderson finds the poetry that lies within him while he is standing in front of the room and the teacher is bringing it out of him. It's as though the teacher knew all along what was inside of him. It was beautiful to hear him speak from within and allow his words to find voice.

    The second part of the film that was very hard for me to accept was that Neal would rather end his life than face the rejection of his parents. That his own soul wasn't worth its own value and that all he was was wound up inside of what his parents wanted. I couldn't understand why he couldn't break free from his father but I love the example and the hope that it gave Anderson.

    1. Debbie, your comment "why couldn't he break free from his father" is a tough question. For me being a father this movie has changed how I view one of my boys. I always want the best for him and have tried to push him to achieve in this physically driven world. I have a different understanding because of this movie. I think he is more of a poet then a football player. Hopefully I can make the corrections.

      1. I also have a son with similar attributes and also have a new understanding because of this movie. Is good poetry and a 3,000 yard season to much to strive for.

    2. It was sad to see how Neil ended. It was a good lesson for me. I'm a parent and it made me think about my daughters. I want to empower them to be who God created them to be. I hope I can achieve that.

  14. Amy, I could not agree more. Finding a healthy balance of idealistic and physicalist worldviews is what is so desperately needed today. Alas, there are very few who understand the balance, let alone seek to implement it.

  15. Kim , I am so glad you saw the connection between Mr. Keating's philosophy and Donald Millers. They are VERY similar, but whereas Miller wants his readers to recognize a Voice or Writer beyond themselves, Mr. Keating actually only wants them to discover their own voice and become their own writer. Very different worldivews, indeed.

    1. My thought was that the voice that Keating was trying to get the DPS to open up to is ultimately, planted by God for us to be our authentic selves.

    2. While both views are slightly different in source they share in the idea that you need to take action (Carpe Diem) to "change your story" as Miller states.

  16. My view on this movie had changed radically with the lessons from Gary on worldview. I attended a private Catholic school young and sent my children to the same school. I now am sending my oldest to a charter school instead of a public high school and this movie has made me think about some of my reasons and motives for both my daughter and I.
    Keating is a one of kind teacher, to find someone who has the energy and worldview like that is hard. The system in our institutions are not always open to change whether religious or public. The physical world usually takes precedence over the idealistic worldview because we are relying on ourselves and money along with titles in a picture of success a young adult does not have the capability to grasp. The texts, mentors, communities that can shape our worldview need to be influenced from the arts and theism. I believe that is why our world is moving toward a direction of physicalstic view instead of a healthy balance of idealistic and physical. Many schools have taken God out of schools along with the arts, WHERE IS THE BALANCE, WHERE IS GOD?

    1. HI Amy,
      I love your comments here and I am also glad that you are thinking over why you have your daughter where you have her. Not because it's right or wrong but I think its wonderful that you are rethinking this just to make sure the motives are best for your daughter.

    2. Amy –

      I miss having you in class. I totally agree with you, where is God in our schools. I find that not only in schools, but in places of work it is all about self and money (physicalism). We have to be careful who is shaping our kid's lives and we better be involved in our kid's lives and guide them into God's ways (theism). Great teachers can foster worldview change in their students.

    3. Amy I too went to Catholic school and have sent my children as well probably for the same reason you chose. However I chose to send them to public school becuase I wanted them to see the world in a different view. One that wasn't primarily white upper middle class. The world is full of different beliefs and cultures and I want my kids to be exposed to that versus sheltered as I was. The kids at Welton would never be exposed to other cultures, that makes me sad to think of how much they will be missing in life.

  17. Hi Jelimb,
    I like your post. There needs to be an open communication with parents and children. Even if it hurts, it's better to get things out in the open before it gets too late. Sometimes in most cases it is better if a child could listen to one vioce to avoid confusion in his/her life while growing up.

  18. My view on this movie opens a door to a different prospective. I like the win-win situation. This is where each person gets what they want but not to a full extent. When I look back at my life, I could not have done it without my parents.
    In as much as Neal's father wanted his desires to be fulfilled in his son, he could have also embraced his son's desires as well. The father may not like it, but Neil happens to be the subject of the matter and without Neil there is no dream.
    This is where communication comes in. In this sense we no longer see life from a Physicalist point of view but we embrace the Idealistic prospective of how we see things. That there is a God who will guide us in all truths. Mr. Keating started Neil on a beautiful path, but I taught that the timing was wrong. Life can be much easier with an open communication. Neil now, only finds himself in a box. So to him his only way out of the situation is to get rid of his own life. What a sad ending. I have learned to use a win-win concept in many complicated situations. It is not very easy, but it works out just fine. This is a never ending problem in today's society.

  19. With great power comes great responsibility…where have I heard that before…anyway did you see how some of the parents drop the ball? Especially when Neil's distraught, but angry and stubborn, father holds Keating responsible for his son's suicide and forces Headmaster Nolan to launch an investigation into Keating's teaching methods. Proverbs 22:6 comes in mind " Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". As Christians we have a Great responsibility, but as Christian parents we should not condone or excuse self-will, each child has natural talents as parents we should encourage them, not stop them.

    1. Andre,
      Great point we do forget. Sometimes we forget the morals we teach our children do not need to be controlled and hoovered over like a helicopter. Trusting in what we teach from Scripture and God to do the rest is hard to do in a controlling society, as it is very impressionable to young kids.

    2. Andre –

      I totally agree with you that as parents we have a huge responsibility raising children to love God and live moral lives which now days is not an easy task. That is why praying for our children every day is so important to guide them in making good decisions and choices. I know with our children, we let them make choices and not allways impose what sports or whatever we liked upon them. We let them try different things to see which they liked. We can only control so much in our kid's lives and we don't want them to turn against us.

    3. Yes, wasn't that just terrible of Neil's father! Stubborn is a great description. I would add pig–headed as well. The father was so power hungry….to the point that his own wife would not stand up for her son. This film was all about the two extremes of encouragement. On one side, Mr. Keating encouraging growth in any direction that seemed natural and on the other side was the narrow minded father and head school master.

  20. Carpe Diem and the Escape from Physicalism Dead Poets Society

    As I viewed "Dead Poets Society" this weekend, I was amazed that my perspectives about the movie were much different than the first time I saw it several years ago. I appreciated being able to see a broader picture of the story and characters this time, and really appreciated the underlying struggles which were portrayed. Though I don't always "like" Robin Williams as an actor, I thought he (as Mr. Keating) was exemplary in his rather unconventional role as teacher/mentor to the students at Welton. I appreciated his passion to do whatever it took to develop the full potential of the young men under his wing. The phrase "…beyond the walls of the physical universe Keating points his students to the idealistic realm of beauty, love, and meaning that eludes those trapped in the Physicalist worldview" (Two Handed Warrior/Stratton article) seems to succinctly describe this educational phenomenon. He pushed the students toward different ways of viewing and responding to their world, and he also stirred the elements of "norm" within the confines of tradition in the educational setting at Welton. It seems that he was not only teaching the students, but he was modeling his worldview to the administration and other instructors–or, "practicing what he preached", even though it stirred controversy and conflict. (and was ultimately painfully costly to him)

    I appreciated this movie not only for the intriguing themes and life-lessons entwined in the interactions between characters, but also for the nuggets of truth which can be applied to our lives today. Certainly, having a surety about what we believe and the courage to stand up for our values and beliefs in the midst of "the winds that buffet"(or conflict/controversy) is important. This was a valuable perspective that I took away from the story.

    1. I agree, this movie reminds me how hard it was for me to stand up to my dad when I was young. I remember getting to a point where I decided not to even bother. I wish I had the courage to stand up more. My worldview and his differently did not match, justifiably for a lot of reason. culture shifts and traditions from different continent. I hope when my kids stand up to me about changes, I hope I have the wisdom to listen and keep an open mind.

    2. Jelimb,
      I too looked at this movie differently at an older age and different place in my life. Good point on the fact that the staff was in a transformation along with the students. from Keating's teachings and the reaction from the students. Too bad they lost a great spirit of a friend.

    3. The troubling question to me is not why there are so many Mr. Nolans in the world, but why are there are so few Mr. Keatings?

    4. Your last paragraph talks about having a surety about what we believe and the courage to stand up for others. I thought Keating displayed a great deal of courage and possibly naivetivity that his teaching would be accepted, but held to his beliefs in what needed to be taught. His teachings appeared to work as some of the students rebelled in the last scene and stood on their desks. I too will carry that value with me.

    5. When you are sure of who you are take the passion and coviction to let others know who you are. This is the type of movie which encourage you people to listen to their inner voice.

  21. Jelimb,
    I love the conversation Mr. McAllister has with Mr. Keating at lunch time about Keating's
    unconventional lesson. Initially, McAllister thinks it was a crazy lesson. I agree with you when you say, "Amazing are the ripple effects on individuals and systems around them caused by change." It is apparent that after observing Keating's teaching principals in action, McAllistar was impressed. At the end of the movie, McAllistar is shown marching a class out in the courtyard just as Keating had done. Here is an example of the ripple effect you previously mentioned. Not only were individual students changed but another seasoned teacher as well. Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Being an old dog myself, I appreciate the reality of that scene having served as an instructor in the U.S. Navy.

  22. I also like this movie!! It show how power can be used wrongly…let me explain like this. There is a football team the Oakland Raiders. There motto is "A commitment to Excellence". Now remember they haven't won or went to the Super Bowl since 2003. Since then there be just okay. The reason I'm bringing that up is look at the beginning of this movie. Everyone of the banners the kids held said, Tradition, Honor, Discipline, Excellence was a way of life to them….*key word* "TO THEM meaning the facility. That's not the way of life…that is a robot!
    The reason Mr Keaton (Robin Williams) was showing them how to be different, He showed taught them several ways to do that. The one I like was when they stood on the desk and said, look at things in a different way’. Shouldn't we as Christians look to witness, or evangelize, or talk about the "good news" in a different way. Just asking.

    1. Andre,

      I agree with you Andre. We must not change the message (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) but deliver it with the individual abilities God has created within each of us. Keaton did what was right. He found his voice. He had an order about himself and he was not a fool. If we conduct ourselves appropriately in God’s orderly fashion, we will be made successful in our service.

      I watched this movie before but watching it again taking our studies in consideration, undergoing change, has made it really interesting.

    2. Andre,

      I appreciated your comments about "looking at things in a different way"…particularly as you tied this into your perspective about how we as Christians share "the good news". Wow, that is interesting to consider–since it seems we can get stuck in "models or methods" rather than exhibiting genuine love and passion to share the message. One must consider what "banners" of values or worldviews we may have memorized or made into our motto–and to ask God to transform us toward genuine faith and action as we relate to others. Much to be learned, and I always appreciate your courage to ask questions and challenge beyond the status quo. Thanks, Andre!

    3. Andre,

      I agree that we should be the ones looking at things differently. However, from my perception of life, I see that we as Christians, could learn a thing or two from the non-Christians. In my culture, I see that the non-Christians love and help each other more or better than the Christians do. That to me is an eye opener.

    4. I too appreciated the statement about looking at things differently. Life can be much simpler if you look around you and learn your surrondings then become a part of your worl. Create your own character and live in it.

  23. “Bungee-jumping to Eternity: Dead Poets Society and the Power and Limits of Existentialism”

    This post brought back memories of my father's strong influence on my life when I was growing up at home. My father’s worldview made him who he was and kept him who he was. His strong desire to control his family created conflict between us. I always struggled conforming to my father’s expectations and direction. Our struggle drove a wedge between us that kept me feeling separated and lonely. I knew what those boys at Welton were experiencing. I felt their frustration and anger. Mr. Keating was a great teacher. He was the real thing. He loved his students and practiced what he preached. He was filled with passion and his teaching objectives had meaning. The movie did a fine job showing what a tough world we live in. It is a real challenge for a Christian to change while living in this secular world. Thank God it can be done by abandoning the old self and believing in His son Jesus Christ. We must stand up and elevate ourselves from the rest of the world, continuing to rewrite our worldview with the wisdom and knowledge given to us by the Holy Spirit.

    1. Hey Bob thank you. I never had a father growing up. My grandmother raise me so I can feel some of what your feeling. My grandma was the same way, but more from a "old southern christian flavor". It was always yes ma'am, no ma'am; yes sir, no sir.
      So when I wanted to go into the Army instead of being to 'obedient' church going boy she flipped!! to put it in a nutshell I was an outcast from my family, I considered suicide, but I was scared to die. It is amazing what will or self will that parents can do to a child at a early age.
      We need more of the Mr. Keaton types even in the Christian World who loves to "teach" Christ instead of forcing Christ.

    2. I agree with you about the conflicts that tradition and culture can create. It is even harder when those conflicts are coming from those closest to us. To make changes is difficult and we hope that the changes we make will be to create a better world for all of us. We should live our life to the fullest, challenging ourselves to be the best we can be.

    3. Hi Bob,
      Great post. It's great that having Christ into our lives, makes a whole lot of a difference. God's wisdom is what we need to get through today's society. It makes it much easier to rewrite our story.

    4. Bob,
      Rewriting our worldview with wisdom and knowledge from the Holy Spirit is exactly the idea that brings about change. I'm often wondering about the story that was not told, my thoughts went to the change in the worldview of Niel's parents, specifically his Mom, she seemed torn as she sat there silently, while her husband laid down the law to Neil. How did the death of her son change her worldview?

    5. Bob,
      This happens so much but in a different way. I influence my daughter with a much different worldview than most around her and we battle due to the overwhelming influence from society. I think sometimes I get controlling and movies like this remind me of the great uniqueness God gives them and their eyes tell me to see inside who they are like in the Fiddler on the roof with his daughters. It is a hard balance, we are very blessed for the guidance and renewal from our Father.

    6. Bob, I think that a lot of men from that generation were like your dad, and Mr. Perry. Thank God for sons like you who are willing to live from a different script.

    7. Wow Bob,
      This had to have been very powerful to watch knowing what you went through with your own father. Hopefully it helped you find your own strength by watching this!

  24. What I learned from Dead Poet Society is how hard it is to break tradition and worldview that has been rooted for generations. I am currently struggling with family and community members to change our view of life and some of our cultures which creates our worldviews. They feel it's important to keep certain things just because that's the way it's been, others because they are afraid to take that first step.

    Change is hard and often time you end up being all alone. This movie reminds me that if I keep at it, eventually enough people will switch over and changes will happen.

    1. Chong, I agree with your perspective that "it is hard to break tradition and worldview that has been rooted for generations". We saw this clearly in the movie, "The Dead Poets Society", and I imagine that many of us have experienced this challenge in our personal or family lives. It seems that there can be a high cost for going against the "norm" or breaking out of previous boundaries and expectations. However, we saw from the movie, that there can be a high cost of staying status quo and not being true to values and dreams too. There seems to be no easy way to bring about personal or corporate change, but overall, it is important to be willing to try, come what may. Perhaps what I brought away from the movie is that truth, honor, and courage to take a stand are what matter most in the long run. May we be able to tap into God's resources and loving guidance–and if we need to stand on a few desks along the way–so be it. (I loved that imagery and experiential teaching from Mr. Keating, particularly as that example came full-circle for the students at the end of the movie).

    2. Hi Chong,
      I agree, it is very difficult to break away from tradition. But some where down the line we also know the truth. How do we get at it is a different story. In this movie, I thought that the timing was wrong. The mind set of Neil was not fully developed. He still needed a strong support from home, which was not there.

    3. I agree change is difficult. As my worldview is being fine tuned, I'm learning that some people can't go where God is leading me. I have tried to poke, prod and drag some loved ones into my new worldview, to no avail. So, sadly I have had to allow people to walk away and discover God's promise on their own.

    4. Chong, You are so right that "Change is hard and often time you end up being all alone." I cannot imagine the struggles of a second generation community trapped between a first generation old-country worldview, and an American worldview. I'm glad the movie helped at least a bit.

    5. Stay encouraged Chong and work towards the change that you believe will be the best for everyone!

    6. Chong your post was very honest and I agree with how hard it can be to break tradition. I am also struggling with my aging parents as I see them not aging well. They don't want to change or admit they need to change in order to improve their quality of life. I wish you the best in your attempts to influence your family.

Comments are closed.