I can intellectualize all I want, but when it comes to the Peter Weir film Dead Poets Society (1989), I can’t deal with seeing it again. Not for a long time, anyway. I first saw it in January 2012 and it still affects me too deeply to revisit it.
Robin Williams has one of his best dramatic roles as John Keating, the English teacher who inspires his students to “seize the day.” Robert Sean Leonard is equally riveting as idealistic Neil Perry, eager to break out of his father’s mold and pursue the life he really wants to lead. As great as Williams and Leonard are – and they are great – it’s young Ethan Hawke who tears your heart out as Todd Anderson, whose introverted shyness, sensitivity and various fears about being himself make his character a person with whom I can empathize. If Hawke never did anything else worthwhile in his career, this would be enough to make him a favorite of mine (as it did).
When you see the film, the last shot will stay with you. I’m sure there are people who argue that it is held a little too long, uncomfortably so, but it is done for numerous good reasons. You hope everything could have a happy ending, but it can’t; at least there’s a small sliver of hope for some of the characters, though in that last shot you wonder if the hope is even possible. Hope is intertwined with fear.
See Dead Poets Society if you can, but don’t assume that you’ll be able to see it again soon after. I know I can’t.