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Dead Poets Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dead Poets Society
Dead poets society.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Produced by
Written byTom Schulman
StarringRobin Williams and Ethan Hawke
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byWilliam Anderson
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • June 2, 1989 (1989-06-02)
Running time
129 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$16.4 million[2]
Box office$235.9 million[3]

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American teen drama film written by Tom Schulman, directed by Peter Weir, and starring Robin Williams. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy,[4] it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.

The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Robin Williams. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Film,[5] the César Award for Best Foreign Film and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film. Schulman received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work.


In the autumn of 1959, shy Todd Anderson begins his senior year of high school at Welton Academy, an all-male, elite prep school. He is assigned one of Welton's most promising students, Neil Perry, as his roommate and is quickly accepted by Neil's friends: Knox Overstreet, Richard Cameron, Stephen Meeks, Gerard Pitts, and Charlie Dalton.

On the first day of classes, they are surprised by the unorthodox teaching methods of the new English teacher, John Keating. A Welton alumnus himself, he encourages his students to "make your lives extraordinary", a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem, meaning "seize the day."

Subsequent lessons include having them take turns standing on his desk to demonstrate ways to look at life in a different way, telling them to rip out the introduction of their poetry books which explains a mathematical formula used for rating poetry, and inviting them to make up their own style of walking in a courtyard to encourage them to be individuals. His methods attract the attention of strict headmaster Gale Nolan.

Upon learning that Keating was a member of the unsanctioned Dead Poets Society while he was at Welton, Neil restarts the club and he and his friends sneak off campus to a cave where they read poetry and verse, including their own compositions. As the school year progresses, Keating's lessons and their involvement with the club encourage them to live their lives on their own terms. Knox pursues Chris Noel, an attractive cheerleader who is dating Chet Danburry, a football player from a local public school whose family is friends with his.

Neil discovers his love of acting and gets the role as Puck in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, despite the fact that his domineering father Thomas wants him in the Ivy League (and ultimately medical school). Keating helps Todd come out of his shell and realize his potential when he takes him through an exercise in self-expression, resulting in his composing a poem spontaneously in front of the class.

However, Charlie takes things too far when he publishes an article in the school newspaper in the club's name demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. Nolan paddles Charlie to coerce him into revealing who else is in the Dead Poets Society, but he resists. Nolan also speaks with Keating, warning him that he should discourage his students from questioning authority. Keating does admonish the boys (in his manner), warning that one must assess all consequences.

Thomas discovers Neil's involvement in the play and forces him to quit on the eve of the opening performance. Devastated, Neil goes to Keating, who advises him to stand his ground and prove to Thomas that his love of acting is something he takes seriously. Thomas unexpectedly shows up at the performance. He takes Neil home and says he has been withdrawn from Welton, only to be enrolled in a military academy to prepare him for Harvard so he will become a doctor. Unable to find the courage to stand up to his father, and lacking any support from his concerned mother, a distraught Neil commits suicide.

Nolan investigates Neil's death at the request of the Perry family. Cameron blames Neil's death on Keating to escape punishment for his own participation in the Dead Poets Society, and names the other members. Confronted by Charlie, Cameron urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Cameron and is expelled. Each of the boys is called to Nolan's office to sign a letter attesting to the truth of Cameron's allegations, even though they know they are false. When Todd's turn comes, he is reluctant to sign, but does so after seeing that the others have complied and succumbing to his parents' pressure.

Keating is fired and Nolan (who taught English at Welton before becoming headmaster) takes over teaching the class, with the intent of adhering to traditional Welton rules. Keating interrupts the class to gather his leftover belongings. As he leaves, Todd stands up on his desk and says "O Captain! My Captain!", which prompts the other members of the Dead Poets Society (except for Cameron) to do the same, to Nolan's fury and Keating's pleased surprise. Touched by this gesture, Keating proudly thanks the boys and departs.




Peter Weir had been eager to follow up his two US breakthrough hits with Harrison Ford, Witness and The Mosquito Coast, with a romantic comedy starring Gérard Depardieu as a Frenchman who marries an American for convenience called Green Card. Depardieu was in high demand following his success in the Provençal drama Jean de Florette and Weir was advised he would have to wait a year for his availability.[7]

In late 1988, Weir met with Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney (which produced the movie via Touchstone Pictures), who suggested Weir read a script recently received. On a flight back to Sydney, Weir was captivated and six weeks later returned to Los Angeles to cast the principal characters.[8]

The original script was written by Tom Schulman, based on his experiences at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, particularly with his inspirational teacher Samuel Pickering.[9][10] In Schulman's manuscript, Keating had been ill, slowly dying of Hodgkin lymphoma with a scene showing him on his deathbed in hospital. This was removed by Weir who deemed it unnecessary, claiming this would focus audiences on Keating's illness and not on what he stood for.[11]

Early notes on the script from Disney also suggested making the boy's passion dancing rather than poetry as well as a new title Sultans of Swing focusing on the character of Mr. Keating rather than the boys themselves, but both were dismissed outright.[8]

Filming started in the winter of 1988 and took place at St. Andrew's School and the Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware, and at locations in New Castle, Delaware, and in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.[12] During the shooting, Weir requested the young cast not to use modern slang, even off camera.[13]


Liam Neeson originally won the part of John Keating before Peter Weir took over direction from Jeff Kanew.[14] Other actors considered were Dustin Hoffman,[15] Tom Hanks and Mickey Rourke.[16]


Box office

The worldwide box office was reported as $235,860,579, which includes domestic grosses of $95,860,116.[3] The film's global receipts were the fifth highest for 1989, and the highest for dramas.[17] The film was released in the United Kingdom on September 22, 1989, and topped the country's box office that weekend.[18]

Critical response

Dead Poets Society holds an 84% approval rating and average rating of 7.28/10 on Rotten Tomatoes based on 57 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Affecting performances from the young cast and a genuinely inspirational turn from Robin Williams grant Peter Weir's prep school drama top honors."[19] The film holds a score of 79 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[20] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[21]

The Washington Post reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance".[22] 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".[4] Pauline Kael was unconvinced by the film, and its "middlebrow highmindedness", but praised Williams. "Robin Williams' performance is more graceful than anything he's done before [–] he's totally, concentratedly there – [he] reads his lines stunningly, and when he mimics various actors reciting Shakespeare there's no undue clowning in it; he's a gifted teacher demonstrating his skills."[23]

Roger Ebert's review was largely negative, only giving the film two out of four stars. He criticized Williams for spoiling an otherwise creditable dramatic performance by occasionally veering into his onstage comedian's persona, and lamented that for a movie set in the 1950s there was no mention of the Beat Generation writers. Additionally, Ebert described the film 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."[24]

On their Oscar Nomination edition of Siskel & Ebert, both Gene Siskel (who also gave the film a mixed review) and Ebert disagreed with Williams' Oscar nomination; Ebert said that he would have swapped Williams with either Matt Dillon for Drugstore Cowboy or John Cusack for Say Anything. On their If We Picked the Winners special in March 1990, Ebert chose the film's Best Picture nomination as the worst nomination of the year, believing it took a slot that could have gone to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.

John Simon, writing for National Review, said Dead Poets Society was the most dishonest film he had seen in some time.[25]


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. The movie also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

The film was voted #52 on the AFI's 100 Years…100 Cheers list, a list of the top 100 most inspiring films of all time.[33]

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.[34]


After Robin Williams' death in August 2014, fans of his work used social media to pay tribute to him with photo and video reenactments of the film's final "O Captain! My Captain!" scene.[35]


Nancy H. Kleinbaum's novel Dead Poets Society (1989) is based on the movie.[36]

Stage play

A theatrical adaptation written by Tom Schulman and directed by John Doyle opened Off-Broadway on October 27, 2016, and ran through December 11, 2016.[37] Jason Sudeikis stars as John Keating[38] with Thomas Mann as Neil Perry, David Garrison as Gale Nolan, Zane Pais as Todd Anderson, Francesca Carpanini as Chris, Stephen Barker Turner as Mr. Perry, William Hochman as Knox Overstreet, Cody Kostro as Charlie Dalton, Yaron Lotan as Richard Cameron, and Bubba Weiler as Steven Meeks.[39][40]

The production received a mixed review from The New York Times, with critic Ben Brantley calling the play "blunt and bland" and criticizing Sudeikis's performance, citing his lack of enthusiasm when delivering powerful lines.[41]


The ending of the film was parodied in the Saturday Night Live sketch "Farewell, Mr. Bunting", in which a student, upon climbing onto his desk, is decapitated by a ceiling fan.[42]

See also

  • "The Changing of the Guard", a June 1, 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone starring Donald Pleasence as a retiring English teacher at a New England boys' school, who questions whether he has made a difference in the boys' lives.
  • The Emperor's Club (2002), an American drama film set in a boys' preparatory school in the northeast.


  1. ^ "DEAD POETS SOCIETY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. July 27, 1989. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  2. ^ "Dead Poets Society (1989)". The Numbers. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Dead Poets Society (1989) daily". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  4. ^ 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. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
  5. ^ "1990 Film Film | BAFTA Awards". Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ King, James (2018). Fast Times and Excellent Adventures. London: Constable. p. 429. ISBN 9781472123725.
  8. ^ a b King, James (2018). Fast Times and Excellent Adventures. London: Constable. p. 430. ISBN 9781472123725.
  9. ^ "Real-life professor inspires 'Dead Poets' character". TimesDaily. Florence, AL, USA: Tennessee Valley Printing Co., Inc. Associated Press. July 10, 1989. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  10. ^ Bill Henderson (January 12, 1992). "Robin Williams and Then Some". The New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  11. ^ McCurrie, Tom (March 15, 2004). "Dead Poets Society's Tom Schulman on the Art of Surviving Hollywood". Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  12. ^ Cormier, Ryan (August 12, 2014) [Originally published April 4, 2014]. "25 'Dead Poets Society' in Delaware facts". The News Journal. Pulp Culture. Wilmington, Delaware, USA: Gannett Company. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  13. ^ King, James (2018). Fast Times and Wxcellent Adventures. London: Constable. p. 433. ISBN 9781472123725.
  14. ^ Meil, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A. New York: McFarland. ISBN 9780786420179.
  15. ^ Brady, Celia (March 1989). "Bring Back the Kids: Hollywood's Littlest Stars and Biggest Egos in their Middle Ages". Spy: 107.
  16. ^ Walsh, Keri (2014). Mickey Rourke. London: Bloomsbury. p. 2. ISBN 9781844574308.
  17. ^ "1989 Worldwide Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  18. ^ "UK Weekend Box Office 22nd September 1989 - 24th September 1989". Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  19. ^ "Dead Poets Society Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  20. ^ "Dead Poets Society reviews at". Metacritic. Retrieved January 25, 2010.
  21. ^ "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  22. ^ Howe, Desson (June 9, 1989). "'Dead Poets Society'". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2010.
  23. ^ Pauline Kael, Movie Love, pp. 153-157, reprinted from review that appeared in The New Yorker, June 26, 1989
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 9, 1989). "Dead Poets Society". Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  25. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 225.
  26. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 62nd Academy Awards". Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  27. ^ "Awards Database". Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  28. ^ Crazy Dave. "Dead Poets Society". Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  29. ^ Ente David di Donatello – Accademia del Cinema Italiano Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "Welcome to the Directors Guild of America". Archived from the original on November 20, 2010. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  31. ^ HFPA – Awards Search Archived October 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 CHEERS". Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  34. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES". Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  35. ^ "Robin Williams death: Jimmy Fallon fights tears, pays tribute with 'Oh Captain, My Captain'". Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  36. ^ Kleinbaum, N.H. (1989). Dead Poets Society. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-0877-3. OCLC 71164757.
  37. ^ Clement, Olivia (February 29, 2016). "CSC to Stage World Premiere of Dead Poets Society". Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  38. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (August 16, 2016). "Jason Sudeikis to Star in Stage Version of 'Dead Poets Society'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  39. ^ Clement, Olivia (September 14, 2016). "Dead Poets Society Finds Its Complete Cast". Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  40. ^ Clement, Olivia (October 27, 2016). "The World Premiere of Dead Poets Society Begins Tonight". Playbill. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  41. ^ Brantley, Ben (November 17, 2016). "Review: 'Dead Poets Society,' Starring Jason Sudeikis as the Idealistic Teacher". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  42. ^ Silverberg, Nicole (May 23, 2016). "Behold, a New Classic 'SNL' Sketch". GQ. Retrieved June 23, 2016.

Further reading

  • Munaretto, Stefan (2005). Erläuterungen zu Nancy H. Kleinbaum/Peter Weir, 'Der Club der toten Dichter' (in German). 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)
This page was last edited on 24 November 2020, at 21:59
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