Dead Poets Society

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Carpe diem!

"Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!"

It is 1959 and the prestigious Welton Academy has just hired John Keating (Robin Williams) as the new English teacher for the upcoming school year. A Blithe Spirit, he uses his classes to inspire his students to go against the flow and be themselves, somehow managing to make reading poetry seem like a cool, rebellious thing to do. A group of the boys, including Todd Anderson, Neil Perry, Charlie Dalton, Knox Overstreet, Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks and Gerard Pitts, form the Dead Poets Society, a group wherin they all sneak out at night to read poetry in a secluded cave. After witnessing many of Keating's unorthodox teaching methods and the effects on the students, Headmaster Nolan, the Dean Bitterman of Welton, tries to put a stop to this.

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama film directed Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams in one of his earlier "serious" roles. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards: Robin Williams for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Picture and winning for Best Original Screenplay.

Tropes used in Dead Poets Society include:
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: According to Pitts: "All the good ones go for jerks, you know that."
  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Similarly, both Chet and Knox are attracted to Chris, who is a cheerleader.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Neil.
  • Bad Liar: For a skilled actor, Neil certainly isn't all that convincing when he tries to tell a lie. It doesn't even look like Keating believed him when Neil claimed that his father was letting him stay in the play.
  • Big No: In slow motion!
  • Billy Elliot Plot: With acting apparently being the girly thing here.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Blithe Spirit
  • Boarding School
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Neil's father is extremely controlling and dominating, and at one point he starts to call him on never listening to his own son or showing any interest in what he wants to do with his life, but he can't follow through and he gives up halfway.
  • The Captain: Mr Keating is not actually one, but his students call him "O Captain My Captain" at his suggestion.
  • Cool Teacher: Duh.
  • Corporal Punishment: Charlie is paddled by the headmaster for his "phone call from God" antics.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Neil is the focus student for much of the film, but after his death it becomes apparent that the real protagonist is Todd.
  • Dean Bitterman: Mr. Nolan.
  • Did Not Do the Research: A bagpiper is at one point shown playing the song "Fields of Athenry". The song was written in the 1970s while the film is set in 1959. This is somewhat excusable considering the song, written in the style of an Irish historical ballad, is a prime example of Newer Than They Think.
  • Disobey This Message: Mr. Keating encourages his students to "think for themselves".
  • Distaff Counterpart: Mona Lisa Smile. But then one could say...
  • Driven to Suicide: Neil.
  • Elaborate University High: The fictional East Coast university Welton Academy.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Neil's father doesn't want Neil to have anything to do with poetry or theatre, and upon discovering that Neil is playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he goes utterly ballistic. He sends Neil to a military academy where he is ultimately Driven to Suicide.
  • The Fifties: Set in 1959.
  • Fond Memories That Could Have Been: Subverted - all Neil's father has to say is "My son, my son," and he blames Keating for the boy's being Driven to Suicide, completely failing to understand that it's his own fault.
  • Foreshadowing: If you look at it a certain way, the ghost story Neil tells earlier in the film is a metaphor for his own suicide.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four main Poets could be considered this: Todd is melancholic, Neil is sanguine, Charlie is choleric and Knox is phlegmatic.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Cameron basically only gets included in the Society because he's part of the other boys' study group and is Charlie's roommate.

Neil: Hey, he's your roommate.
Charlie: That's not my fault.

    • Perfectly justified. It's obvious they wouldn't have included him if they had any hope to hide him the Society, calling him a creep. And he betrays them in the end.
  • Gender Blender Name: Chris.
  • Grew a Spine: Todd, very much. Demonstrated by the end scene.
  • Hair of Gold: Again, Chris.
  • Holding Hands: During the play, Knox holds Chris's hand and she seems to reciprocate.
  • Hollywood New England: Set in Vermont.
  • Ivy League: The aspiration of most of the Welton students -- the school takes quite particular pride in stating that many of its graduates went on to study at schools that belonged to the very prestigious Ivy League.
  • Jerkass: Richard.
  • Jerk Jock: Chet. Which of course leads to problems when Knox falls head-over-heels for the former's girlfriend.
  • Large Ham: Charlie has his moments, and is clearly enjoying himself at the line "To indeed be a god!"
  • Love At First Sight: Knox, Knox, Knox. One-sided as the object of his affections is "practically engaged" to someone else.
  • Meaningful Name: It couldn't have been coincidence that John Keating is a lover of poetry.
  • Military School: Neil is threatened with this by his controlling and dominating father.
  • Nerds Are Virgins: Meeks claims he'd try anything once. Charlie's reply is "Except sex!"
  • Never My Fault: Neil's father blames Keating for his son's suicide even though it was largely his fault.
  • One-Gender School: Welton Academy is an all-boys school.
  • One-Liner Echo: "Oh, Captain, my Captain!" at the end.
  • Performance Anxiety: Todd has a rather severe case of this, leading to initial reluctance to join the Dead Poets Society, since he thinks it will mean having to read aloud in front of other people. Fortunately Neil insists that he doesn't have to read, and lets him take meeting minutes instead.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: The official motto. The unofficial one, student-written, is somewhat modified, shall we say.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Charlie's actions make for an interesting contrast with what Keating actually encourages. While the latter is trying to teach his students to think for themselves and be masters of their own lives, the former takes that to mean "rebel for its own sake, fight against authorities for fun." When Charlie nearly gets himself expelled for a joke, Keating calls him out on this misinterpretation.
  • Save Our Students
  • School Play
  • Sexy Sax Man: Charlie pretty obviously tries to be this. Though he claims to like the saxophone because it is more 'sonorous' than the clarinet, which his parents forced him to take.
  • Shallow Love Interest: Chris for Knox, to an extent. Through no fault of her own, though, she just doesn't get much character development onscreen and is only really loved by Knox for her appearance. She even points this out to him when she goes to confront him at Welton, replying to his repeated insistence that he loves her, "You don't even know me!"
  • Shirtless Scene
  • Shrinking Violet: Oh, Todd. At the beginning, at least, he seems to just be trying to blend in with the wallpaper half the time. Fortunately his friendship with the other Poets (Neil in particular) goes a long way toward making him a more confident person.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Although deconstructed, double subverted, and generally played with beyond all recognition, the film still tries to promote an idealistic viewpoint, even though a lot of situations in DPS are firmly on the cynical end.
  • The Smart Guy: Meeks, who aced Latin and tutors Charlie in just about every subject, something that Charlie happily admits, calling him a genius.

Meeks: He flatters me. That's why I help him with Latin.
Charlie: And English. And Trig.