Dead Poets Society

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Dead Poets Society
Dead poets society.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Weir
Produced by Steven Haft
Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Written by Tom Schulman
Starring Robin Williams
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography John Seale
Edited by William M. Anderson
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • June 2, 1989 (1989-06-02)
Running time 128 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $16.4 million
Box office $235,860,116[2]

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams. Set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in the northeast United States in 1959,[3] it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. The film was critically acclaimed and was nominated for numerous awards.

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, Todd Anderson, Knox Overstreet, Charlie Dalton, Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks, and Gerard Pitts are senior students of the Welton Academy, an elite prep school, whose four Pillars of wisdom are defined by the headmaster Gale Nolan as "tradition, honor, discipline and excellence".

The teaching methods of their new English teacher, John Keating, are unorthodox by Welton standards, including 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, which prescribes a mathematical formula to rate the quality of pieces of poetry; Keating finds this 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. The boys discover that Keating was a former student at Welton and decide to secretly revive the school literary club, the 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, resulting in him being disciplined in the form of corporal punishment. 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. Knox travels to Chris's 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 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. Midway through Neil's performance, his father enters the auditorium, but remains unimpressed. Visibly irritated, he confronts Keating, demanding he leave Neil alone. 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, Neil takes his father's gun and commits suicide.

At the request of Neil's parents, the headmaster launches an investigation. Cameron meets the school governors and board of regents. Later, confronted by Charlie, Cameron admits that he "finked", making Keating the scapegoat, and urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Cameron 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 inciting the boys to restart the club, and encouraging Neil to flout his father's wishes. Todd sees the other boys' signatures on the document, and is ordered by his father to sign it. Keating is fired.

The boys return to English class, now being taught by Nolan, who instructs the boys to read the introductory essay only to find that they had all ripped it out. Nolan finds an unused copy of the book for one student to read the text from. Keating enters the room to retrieve a few belongings. Todd reveals that the boys were intimidated by Nolan and Neil's father into signing the denunciation. Nolan orders Todd to be quiet and demands that Keating leave. As Keating is about to exit, Todd calls out "O Captain! My Captain!" and stands on his desk. Nolan warns Todd to sit down or face expulsion. Much of the class, including Knox, Meeks, Pitts, and half of the class climb onto their desks and look to Keating, ignoring Nolan's orders until he gives up. Keating, visibly touched, thanks the students and then leaves.



The critical reaction to this film has been favorable; it received positive reviews from 85% of critics cited by Rotten Tomatoes,[4] as well as a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 from 14 mainstream critics registered on Metacritic.[5]

The Washington Post reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance".[6] 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".[3] 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."[7]

Roger Ebert's review was mixed, 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."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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 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.[9] Also, 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.[10]

  • BAFTA Awards (UK) 1989[12]
    • 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)
  • Golden Globe Awards (USA)[16]
    • 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)


  1. ^ "DEAD POETS SOCIETY (PG)". Warner Bros. British Board of Film Classification. July 27, 1989. Retrieved August 15, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Dead Poets Society (1989) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Dead Poets Society Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Dead Poets Society reviews at". Metacritic. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  6. ^ Howe, Desson (June 9, 1989). "'Dead Poets Society'". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  7. ^ Pauline Kael, Movie Love, pp. 153-157, reprinted from review that appeared in The New Yorker, June 26, 1989
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 9, 1989). "Dead Poets Society". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  9. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  10. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 CHEERS". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  11. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 62nd Academy Awards". Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Awards Database". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  13. ^ Crazy Dave. "Dead Poets Society". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  14. ^ Ente David di Donatello – Accademia del Cinema Italiano[dead link]
  15. ^ "Welcome to the Directors Guild of America". Retrieved November 27, 2010. [dead link]
  16. ^ HFPA – Awards Search[dead link]
  17. ^ 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' (in German). Hollfeld: Bange. ISBN 3-8044-1817-1. 

External links[edit]

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