Saturday, November 25, 2006


DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989, USA, Peter Weir)
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.

John Keating is one of those life-changing idealistic teachers who challenge us to break free of commonplace thinking so we can live extraordinary lives. If you see this film when you're private school age, it may become a lifetime favourite, a thrilling call to intellectual and artistic arms – unless, that is, you revisit it a decade or so later, and happen to notice that Keating's classes are more style than content. Clearly distraught when his own adolescent love affair with the film came to a heart-breaking end, Gareth Higgins points out that while Keating may inspire Neil Parry to seize the day, "quite what he is supposed to do with the day once he has seized it, we are not sure." Roger Ebert despises it on similar grounds, but I'm still not sure why some folks get quite so cranky about it. Why should it need to be more intellectually rigorous or practically minded than "A Midsummer Night's Dream", which the Dead Poets perform and which plays out the same archetypal conflict between age and youth, law and liberty, ancestral tradition and poetic impulse, head and heart, conformity and independence? Anyway, it feels good that Bob Jewett's got my back: he finds resonance with II Timothy, "To link faith so completely with ancestral tradition, whether Jewish or Christian, whether maternal or paternal, diminishes the revolutionary power of faith." Rodge wants intellectual content, Gareth wants an action plan, but me, I'm content to take it as a fairly adolescent-minded story about (and perhaps for) adolescents, a "be not conformed to this world" coming-of-age tale about the power of poetry and theatre to knock rich kids off their ontological treadmills. At least it beats PORKY'S.


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