But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?... Carpe... Hear it?... Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.John Keating
This quote demonstrators that Keating appreciates the history and legacy of Welton as much as his fellow faculty members, but that rather than let it intimidate his students, he uses it to inspire them. His view appears to be that the boys should follow in the footsteps of those who came before them not because tradition is the best course of action, but because they are all members of the human race, and the passion and excitement for life that they all share is what makes them special.
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.John Keating
One of the movie’s most famous quotes, Keating here acknowledges that many of his students may not care about his preaching about the humanities. After all, Welton prides itself on its ability to churn out doctors, lawyers, and other well-respected professionals. Intuitively, many of its current students are on the path to these careers and so don’t need art and poetry to succeed. Keating therefore reminds the students of why they’re doing what they’re doing, and working as hard as they are. He introduces the radical notion that they’re prestigious and impressive future careers may not actually be the end goal of their lives, but rather the means to living as full a life as possible.
This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.John Keating
A somber moment of foreshadowing, Keating unknowingly references the eventual loss of Neil’s life in this quote. While his words “battle” and “war” refer to many things, they draw a parallel to the fight that many of the boys have with the conservative authority that dominates their life at Walton. Their hunger to break free from this authority becomes a battle in its own right, one that ultimately costs Neil his life and breaks his friends’ hearts.
McAllister: "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I'll show you a happy man."
John Keating: "But only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be."
John Keating: No, Keating.McAllister and Keating
Keating is undoubtedly different from his fellow teachers in many ways, and this exchange between him and Mr. McAllister illustrates an example of how. While McAllister feels that the Welton boys need structure set out for them, whereas dreams may “fetter” their hearts, Keating argues that they should use their dreams to be free, and does so with an original quote, whereas McAllister’s was borrowed from Lord Alfred Tennyson. Not only does the content of his response demonstrate his alternate views of how the boys should be educated, but the nature of the quote itself does as well.
For the first time in my whole life, I know what I wanna do! And for the first time, I'm gonna do it! Whether my father wants me to or not! Carpe diem!Neil Perry
Neil’s enthusiasm at the prospect of becoming an actor demonstrates both the passion brimming within him and the influence of Mr. Keating to bring it to the surface. This is especially true with his exclamation of “Carpe Diem,” a direct reference to Keating’s teachings. The tragic irony here, of course, is that Neil is ultimately unable to do what he wants as a result of his father’s strict hold over him.
I'm exercising the right not to walk.Charlie Dalton
Ever the rebel, Charlie demonstrates at many points throughout the film how quick he is to get on board with Mr. Keating’s unorthodox teaching methods. Even before the two meet, Charlie establishes himself as the slacker when the boys discuss their academic prowess in Neil and Todd’s room on move-in day. The above quote is not only consistent with his slacker character, but also demonstrates his understanding of Keating’s lesson in choosing to have his own style of walking be one of stillness.
Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, 'that's baaaaad.'John Keating
This quote nicely sums up what Keating hopes for the boys: that they’ll become individual free thinkers. It’s the lesson that he believes in perhaps most strongly, but also the most dangerous one in the long run, as it’s the one that causes the most friction with Welton’s strict adherence to uniformity and tradition.
Neil Perry: So what are you going to do? Charlie?
Charlie Dalton: Dammit, Neil, the name is Nuwanda.Neil Perry and Charlie Dalton
Charlie’s interrogation by Headmaster Nolan is a crucial turning point in the film because it’s the first time the boys’ newfound hunger to be free thinkers and poets rubs up against the administration’s strict ideologies about conformity and tradition. Here, when Charlie corrects Neil, he indicates that not even a beating from the headmaster could change the fact that he 1. is loyal to his fellow poets, and 2. wishes to keep the name that the Society inspired him to don. It’s a testament to the unity and passion that the group inspires in him.
There's a time for daring and there's a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.John Keating
Keating’s talk with Charlie and the other boys after the telephone stunt in the sanctuary demonstrates where he draws the line between teacher and preacher. While he establishes himself as an unorthodox faculty member, he is still an authority figure in the boys' lives and wants them to see their education through to graduation, not get expelled following his teachings. Emphasizing this shows that he considers himself their teacher first, before anything else.
John Keating: I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.
Mr. Nolan: At these boys' age? Not on your life!John Keating and Headmaster Nolan
This exchange between Nolan and Keating is one of several instances where Keating’s unusual methods begin to get him in hot water. Nolan personifies everything Welton stands for: tradition, discipline, and rules that stand the test of time. Keating, on the other hand, while respecting these beliefs, thinks differently, and it’s this alternative thinking that seems to create such conflict between himself and his peers as well as the boys and the administration.
Release Year: 1989
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: Tom Shulman
Stars: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles
We'll admit it: prep schools don't have the best literary rep. We've got the stifling conformity and phoniness of the prep school that Holden Caulfield goes to, the stifling conformity and betrayal-happy prep school showcased in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and the stifling conformity and—gulp—organ harvesting of the prep school in Never Let Me Go.
And we'll also admit that the 1950s don't have the best literary rep. Remember the stifling conformity and rampant racism on display in Go Set a Watchman? Or hey: the stifling conformity and homophobia apparent in the film Carol? How about the stifling conformity and familial dysfunction going on in Revolutionary Road?
Dead Poets Society gives you a double scoop of stifling conformity: a prep school, circa the 1950s. But it also gives you the antidote to the aforementioned stifling conformity: meeting a mentor that will encourage you to march to the beat of your own drum.
Four Pillars of Yawn
The students of Welton academy live a super-privileged existence in their prestigious school, where some of the finest future academics, doctors, politicians, and scientists are being groomed.The boys live lives of discipline and tradition, and basically have their Ivy League futures tied up with a bow.
That doesn't mean it's an idyllic existence, though. When a new and dynamic English teacher arrives on the scene, some of Welton's finest are given a glimpse of the world that exists beyond rituals and test scores. They learn about the value of poetry and individualism, and become inspired to lead the lives they have only been dreaming of.
But because this movie takes place in the conformity pressure-cooker of a 1950s prep school, these lessons on scary poetry and scarier individualism don't come easy. We're given front row seats into the lives of young men struggling to find meaning…even as the environment they find themselves living in is choking them like a too-tight school uniform tie.
That doesn't mean it's all doom n' gloom n' claustrophobic school hallways, though. The film's motto of "carpe diem" (aka: "seize the day") struck a chord with audiences and landed Touchstone Pictures with plenty of Oscar nominations (and even a win).
Dead Poets also launched the careers of actors like Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles, and gave audiences a glimpse into the dramatic chops of everybody's favorite genie, Robin Williams.
Carpe diem FTW.
We're guessing even the most math-allergic among you is familiar with the following equations:
Hard Work + Good Grades = Good School
Good School + Hard Work = Good Job
Good Job = Success
Right? Isn't that the way it works?
For most of our lives, we're told that excelling at school will lead to a bright, successful future. All we have to do is study and work hard.
That's the way it works at Welton. Welton Academy—otherwise known as "Hellton," so you know it's super-fun—is the best of the best, and the students (and faculty and parents) know it. The young men of Welton are all destined for bright futures. It's already decided. They simply have to solve the equation that leads to success.
But what does success even mean? Does it mean making money? Having a fancy-shmancy job? Or is it…something else?
In Dead Poets Society, we meet a teacher—Mr. Keating—who challenges his students to consider that very question. He wants them to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Mr. Keating tries to inspire them to live fully, seizing every day, and make their mark before it's too late. He challenges them to avoid conformity and march to the beat of their own drum.
In other words: he wants them to let their freak flags fly.
And maybe it's not just the Welton students who could use a little inspiration. Maybe we could all take a little break from working toward the nebulous goal of "success" and consider which (and whose) goals we want to be working for.
So maybe take a quick study break. Read a Walt Whitman poem. Run barefoot through a meadow. Build a radio. Tell the cutie-pie you've been dreaming about that they're worth dreaming about. Take a stand.
And—oh, yeah—watch Dead Poets Society.