Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A BRIGHT, SHINING LIE:  I've always been a fan of critics deflating Dead Poets Society, and as part of THND's Summer of '89 series Odie Henderson came up with something I hadn't considered before:
The most egregious thing about Dead Poets Society is how not one person takes the inspirational teacher's advice when it matters, even after the death of the one character who dared to seize his day. Every student folds when it matters most: defending their beloved teacher. Yet, after the damage has been done and the threat of repercussion has passed, several of these same students stand on their desks to honor their now fired hero. "Oh Captain, my Captain!" they recite in a moment of Walt Whitman-inspired "solidarity" with Keating. Keating is touched, but he should have called bullshit on these cowards. He should have kicked the desk from under a former student and screamed, "Where was your courage when it was inconvenient? You can't seize a day that's already passed!" Instead, Dead Poets Society ends with Keating's thanks, which serve as a stamp of approval against the always painful urge to do the right thing, no matter how inconvenient.
Tom Schulman won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film, ahead of Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen), Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee), Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh), and When Harry Met Sally... (Nora Ephron).


  1. The Pathetic Earthling10:09 AM

    I always hated that movie because Ethan Hawke's Dad was so appallingly like the father of a kid I knew growing up. Also, I've come to so loathe Robin Williams that it has tainted my memory of every movie he's been involved in (even ones I'm sure I thoroughly enjoyed at the time).

  2. Joseph Finn10:19 AM

    Totally agreed; conversely, the Robert Sean Leonard and Kurtwood Smith subplot is the only good part of the movie to me.

  3. Joseph Finn10:22 AM

    I read that out loud to my wife this morning and we looked at each other in full agreement as he crystallized just a bit more of how annoyingly preachy and smug and kind of horrible this movie is.

    (It being from Peter Weir just makes it even more annoying; I'm re-watching Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is either the greatest Australian horror movie or a perfect example of a fever dream film, for a Criterion project in the comments section at The Dissolve and it's almost incomprehensible that the two movies are from the same director.)

  4. The Pathetic Earthling10:34 AM

    Oh, right. I confused Ethan Hawk with Robert Sean Leonard.

  5. The Pathetic Earthling10:36 AM

    Or Gallipoli, for goodness' sake.

  6. Joseph Finn10:36 AM

    Wait, I thought you meant Hawke's father, who's the one who forces him to sign the letter condemning Keating. 'Cause he's just as bad as Leonard's father.

  7. Joseph Finn10:36 AM

    I'll admit I've never seen that one. I know!

  8. The ending has always bothered me, too. I feel like the "courage" of the boys standing on their desks for Keating is betrayed by their earlier cowardice. While their actions are understandable, it doesn't mean that they truly honored their teacher at the end with a gesture.

  9. The Pathetic Earthling2:11 PM

    Your homework then.

    What are you legs? Springs. Steel springs.
    How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard.
    How fast are you gonna run? As fast a leopard.

  10. The Pathetic Earthling2:11 PM

    He's a jerk, yes. But he's not a jerk in the same way as the fellow from my childhood of whom I am thinking. The "your going to Harvard to become a doctor" guy.

  11. Joseph Finn2:22 PM

    Oh dear. One of *those.*

  12. Or The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie I love, love love.

    (Or in the more popular realm, The Truman Show, for additional goodness' sake!)

  13. And yes, every one of the other screenplay contenders is better.

  14. Wait, TPE - do you now even hate Popeye!?

  15. Fred App9:34 PM

    Of the other screenplay contenders, I was never a fan of "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and always thought it was overrated. On the other hand, the screenplays of "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Do The Right Thing" have always seemed to be under-rated. The plotting for both those movies is deceptively intricate; "Do The Right Thing," in particular, seems like it's just a Spike Lee comedy until you realize how all those seemingly separate storylines are converging in an ending that you may not have expected but in retrospective seems inevitable and true.