Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Weir
Produced by Steven Haft
Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Written by Tom Schulman
Starring Robin Williams
Robert Sean Leonard
Ethan Hawke
Josh Charles
Gale Hansen
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography John Seale
Editing by William M. Anderson
Studio Silver Screen Partners IV
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Release date(s) June 2, 1989 (1989-06-02)
Running time 128 minutes
142 minutes (USA TV cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $16.4 million
Box office $235,860,116[1]

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams. Set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont in 1959,[2] it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.

The script was written by Tom Schulman, based on his life at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Filming took place at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware.



Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero), and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston) are senior students of the Welton Academy prep school, whose ethos is defined by the headmaster Gale Nolan (Norman Lloyd) as "tradition, honor, discipline and excellence". Both Neil and Todd are under harsh parental pressure to become a doctor and a lawyer respectively, but Todd wants to be a writer, and Neil discovers a passion for acting.

The teaching methods of their new English teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), are unorthodox by Welton standards, whistling the 1812 Overture and taking them out of the classroom to focus on the idea of carpe diem. He tells the students that they may call him "O Captain! My Captain!," in reference to a Walt Whitman poem, if they feel daring. In another class, Keating has Neil read the introduction to their poetry textbook, prescribing a mathematical formula to rate the quality of poetry which Keating finds ridiculous, and he instructs his pupils to rip the introduction out of their books, to the amazement of one of his colleagues. Later he has the students stand on his desk in order to look at the world in a different way. Inspired by Keating, the boys secretly revive a school literary club, the eponymous "Dead Poets Society," to which Keating had belonged, meeting in a cave off the school grounds.

Due to self-consciousness, Todd fails to complete a writing assignment and Keating takes him through an exercise in self-expression, realizing the potential he possesses. Charlie publishes an unauthorized article in the school newspaper, asserting that girls should be admitted to Welton. At the resulting school inquiry, he offers a phone call from God in support, incurring the headmaster's wrath. After being lectured by Headmaster Nolan about his teaching methods, Keating tells the boys to "be wise, not stupid" about protesting against the system.

Knox meets and falls in love with a girl named Chris, using his new-found love of poetry to woo her. He presents one of these poems in class, and is applauded by Keating for writing a heartfelt poem on love. Knox travels to Chris's public school and recites his poem to her, later convincing her to go to a play with him. Neil wants to be an actor but knows his father (Kurtwood Smith) will disapprove. Without his father's knowledge, he auditions for the role of Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. His father finds out and orders Neil to withdraw. Neil asks Keating for advice and is advised to talk to his father and make him understand how he feels, but Neil cannot muster the courage to do so. Instead he goes against his father's wishes. His father shows up at the end of the play, furious. He takes Neil home and tells him that he intends to enroll him in a military school to prepare him for Harvard University and a career in medicine. Unable to cope with the future that awaits him or to make his father understand his feelings, Neil commits suicide.

At the request of Neil's parents, the headmaster launches an investigation. Richard meets the school governors and board of regents. Later, confronted by Charlie, Richard admits that he squealed on them and made Keating the scapegoat, and urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Richard and is later expelled. Todd is called to Nolan's office, where his parents are waiting. Nolan forces Todd to admit to being a member of the Dead Poets Society, and makes him sign a document blaming Keating for abusing his authority, inciting the boys to restart the club, and encouraging Neil to flout his father's wishes. Todd sees the other boys' signatures already on the document, and is threatened by his father to sign it. Keating is subsequently fired.

The boys return to English class, now being taught by Nolan, who has the boys read the introductory essay only to find that they had all ripped it out. Keating enters the room to retrieve a few belongings. Todd reveals that the boys were intimidated into signing the denunciation. Nolan orders Todd to be quiet and demands that Keating leave. As Keating is about to exit, Todd for the first time breaks his reserve, calls out "O Captain! My Captain!" and stands on his desk. Nolan warns Todd to sit down or face expulsion. Much of the class climb onto their desks and look to Keating, ignoring Nolan's orders until he gives up. Keating leaves happily.



Critical response

The critical reaction to this film has been generally favorable; it received positive reviews from 86% of critics cited by Rotten Tomatoes,[3] as well as a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 from 14 mainstream critics registered on Metacritic.[4]

The Washington Post reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance".[5] Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised Williams' "exceptionally fine performance", while noting that "Dead Poets Society... is far less about Keating than about a handful of impressionable boys".[2]

Roger Ebert's review was mixed, two out of four stars, criticizing Williams for spoiling a creditable dramatic performance by occasionally veering into his onstage comedian's persona, and additionally describing the movie as an often poorly constructed "collection of pious platitudes [...] The movie pays lip service to qualities and values that, on the evidence of the screenplay itself, it is cheerfully willing to abandon."[6]

Awards and nominations

Dead Poets Society won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Tom Schulman). Peter Weir received a nomination for Best Director and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture of 1989. Robin Williams received his second Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination and it has since been widely recognized as one of the actor/comedian's best roles. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film (the first Touchstone Pictures release to receive a best picture nomination).

The film's line "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." was voted as the 95th greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute.[7] Also, the film was voted one of the 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time by the AFI.[8]

  • BAFTA Awards (UK) 1989[10]
    • Won: Best Film
    • Won: Best Original Film Score (Maurice Jarre)
    • Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams)
    • Nominated: Best Achievement in Direction (Peter Weir)
    • Nominated: Best Editing (William Anderson)
    • Nominated: Best Original Screenplay (Tom Schulman)
  • César Awards (France)[11]
    • Won: Best Foreign Film
  • David di Donatello Awards (Italy)[12]
    • Won: Best Foreign Film
  • Golden Globe Awards (USA)[14]
    • Nominated: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama (Robin Williams)
    • Nominated: Best Director – Motion Picture (Peter Weir)
    • Nominated: Best Motion Picture – Drama
    • Nominated: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (Tom Schulman)


All tracks composed by Maurice Jarre.[citation needed]

  1. "Carpe Diem"
  2. "Neil"
  3. "To the Cave"
  4. "Keating's Triumph"


  1. ^ "Dead Poets Society (1989) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  2. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (June 2, 1989). "Dead Poets Society (1989) June 2, 1989 Review/Film; Shaking Up a Boys' School With Poetry". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "Dead Poets Society Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  4. ^ "Dead Poets Society reviews at". Metacritic. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  5. ^ Howe, Desson (June 9, 1989). "'Dead Poets Society'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 9, 1989). "Dead Poets Society". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  7. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES
  8. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 CHEERS
  9. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 62nd Academy Awards". Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  10. ^ "Awards Database". Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  11. ^ Dead Poets Society
  12. ^ Ente David di Donatello – Accademia del Cinema Italiano
  13. ^ "Welcome to the Directors Guild of America". Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  14. ^ HFPA – Awards Search
  15. ^ Mathews, Jack; Easton, Nina J. (February 9, 1990). "Some Surprises in WGA Nominees, Shutouts : Film: 'Baker Boys,' 'My Left Foot' are dark-horse nominees for Writers Guild awards; non-union 'Do the Right Thing,' 'Drugstore Cowb...". Los Angeles Times. 
Further reading
  • Munaretto, Stefan (2005). Erläuterungen zu Nancy H. Kleinbaum/Peter Weir, 'Der Club der toten Dichter'. Hollfeld: Bange. ISBN 3-8044-1817-1. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Dangerous Liaisons
César Award for Best Foreign Film
Succeeded by
Toto the Hero (Toto le héros)

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