As a movie, I think I like “Dead Poets Society” very much. For one thing, I like Robin Williams (who doesn’t?) and for another thing, I’m generally drawn to things that take place in schools (either boarding or college).
There was an article at The Atlantic a while ago about the problems one English academic has with the movie, and to be honest, I agreed with it. As much as I can enjoy “Dead Poets Society” as a movie, and as much as I enjoy a lot of the things in it, I don’t think we should look at it as an honest way to teach poetry. Maybe it’s because I come from a logical school of thought and I do think that there is a method to which you should approach it if you’re trying to analyze it. There’s a reason why we refer to English as belonging to a college of humanities and social sciences, the same as history and philosophy: We need to be able to look at literature of all kinds critically, and when we don’t, to paraphrase the article, we allow the study of it to become defanged.
I’m still showing the movie to my students though for a couple of reasons: One, it’s Friday, and they’re probably as anxious to get out as I am; Two, it’s the end of the term and while there are plenty of students who have to make up a lot of work, I don’t want the students who have been here doing that work to be bored while I provide much needed makeup time; and Three, we’re reading Walt Whitman, and the one thing I can claim for this movie is that it definitely follows a lot of transcendentalist veins of thought.
(Although, I could make an argument against myself here and say that anyone who is telling people to think for themselves runs the risk of appearing to be a hypocrite, and anyone who tells people to think for themselves also runs the risk of gaining a cult of personality—which, arguably, is kind of what happens by the end of the movie. I digress.)
We’re not going to get all the way through the movie and I’ve already shown them enough that this might be the last one I do with them. I’m also having them answer questions while watching the movie if they don’t have makeup work to do, because I can’t just throw a movie on—I already am pushing off providing a quiz for this week until they’ve finished reading Whitman (and they’ll be upset about having to answer questions about Whitman and Dickinson at once, but my timeline has been significantly thrown off), so I can’t just have students doing nothing.
Besides, I have work that I have to grade, too, so there’s that. My grades have to be in by Wednesday at the absolute latest.
But what do I like about the movie, besides Robin Williams and the setting?
I’m a sucker for character interaction, and there are things that really sell it for me. The act of watching this movie isn’t tedious, and for the most part, I remember liking the cinematography. Then again, today will be the first time in a few years that I’ll have watched it, so maybe my opinions will have changed (for better or worse).
Worst case scenario, I make up for it by rereading “Old School” and call it a day. I might have to wait until tomorrow before I feel even the least bit productive—though maybe that’s unfair to myself, since I’ve been editing intermittently as articles have been coming in, and there are things that I’ve graded, and I can allow myself to stay up a little later, if I need to, tonight, since I don’t have to get up at 6 AM tomorrow. Also, since I’ve made the decision to count articles and blog posts in my total word count for the month (sorry, NaNo—that might sound like I’m cheating but I promise, I’m not), I’m already started towards that goal, too.
Anyway, it’s April, it’s raining, and hopefully by May there are plenty of flowers.