How to strive for ‘carpe diem’ in the 21st century via the film ‘Dead Poets Society’

‘You must strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are going to find it at all’


“Dead Poets Society” Official IMDb Page

By Sierra Thornton, Staff Writer

Most people have had some experience with the film “Dead Poets Society” in school or through pop-culture references in shows like “Saturday Night Live.” In 1989, the movie was released to critical acclaim and awards; today, it boasts an 85 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But 32 years after the fact, does the movie still hold up for a new generation of viewers?

The film follows an English teacher, Mr. John Keating (Robin Williams), who transforms the lives of Welton Academy’s elite, all-male student body. Prior to Keating’s entrance into the boys’ lives, the students go about their dull school days, rolling eyes at their parents’ expectations. Soon after Mr. Keating begins his unorthodox lessons, many of the students take his teachings to heart. The phrase “carpe diem” (seize the day) is repeated by the boys over and over, becoming their newfound goal. By learning to pursue their dreams and reach out to one another with hopeful hands, they realize that the possibilities for life are endless.

One of my favorite aspects about this film is the character development. Though there are several main characters in this movie, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) is a character that fascinates and resonates among many. At first glance, one could assume that he’s just the resident heartthrob and popular boy, but soon, the audience learns of his harsh fate. The expectations set by his father are strict, intended to keep his son on track to enter the medical profession. These expectations drive a wedge between Neil and his father, and Neil finds himself seeking comfort in Mr. Keating as a father figure. Neil confides in Mr. Keating, venting about his parents and their dreams for him. After learning that Mr. Keating belonged to a secret club called the “Dead Poets Society,” Neil is determined to reinstate the club. The  journey to revive the society strikes determination in Neil and his friends to follow their passions. With this courage, Neil finally explores his love of acting and participates in plays he had always dreamt of being a part of. Unable to please his parents’ expectations and juggle true aspirations, Neil Perry eventually finds himself at a tragic end. There are many other great characters and subplots threaded throughout the film, but Neil’s story is often the greatest source of relatability for many viewers.

For younger generations, TikTok is the definitive social media platform. With that being said, the hashtag for “deadpoetssociety” has over 131 million views to its name. The media available ranges from movie clips to fan edits, plot and character analyses, memes, jokes, reactions and so much more. The themes and lessons learned in “Dead Poets Society” have long remained influential since its release and the applications to real world issues are everchanging with the times. People re-watch for many reasons, but the hold this classic has over viewers is clear. Whether you have seen it once or watch it once a week, it is an inspirational film that has a space in hearts all around. In a world that tries to define us, the two-hour venture with the Welton boys can be both therapeutic and introspective, leaving viewers to ask themselves what they are chasing after and to never stop running.

Sierra Thornton can be reached at [email protected]