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Carpe Di-what?!? Roger Ebert hated 'Dead Poets Society'




Chicago Sun-Times film critic/living god Roger Ebert pretty much hated 1989's Dead Poets Society. "It is, of course, inevitable that the brilliant teacher will eventually be fired from the school, and when his students stood on their desks to protest his dismissal, I was so moved, I wanted to throw up," he wrote in his original review.

This isn't breaking news, of course, but the movie has been in my head a lot lately. First, we did our Stuck in the '80s podcast about high schools in the '80s, and this week I've been listening to Maurice Jarre's movie score while at work. I haven't yet jumped on my desk in my very tight cubicle and yelled "Oh captain, my captain!" but give me time.

I remember being fairly happy with the movie upon my first viewing, but I think the meaning behind it has grown as I've aged. Suddenly I appreciate the adult perspective and I sympathize more with Robin Williams' turn as Professor Keating. And yet, today, I also really admire Neal Perry's (Robert Sean Leonard) exultation upon discovering acting, and Knox Overstreet's (Josh Charles) pursuit of love. It's as if they're fulfilling some of our life-long regrets. Watch it again, and see if you don't somehow manage to climb inside their heads ... if only for the moment and exult too.

So it was with no small amount of shock when I read Roger Ebert's review today. Among his observations:

  • "At the end of a great teacher's course in poetry, the students would love poetry; at the end of this teacher's semester, all they really love is the teacher."
  • "I squirmed through the meetings of the Dead Poets Society, a self-consciously bohemian group of students who hold secret meetings in the dead of night in a cave near the campus."
  • "Dead Poets Society is not the worst of the countless recent movies about good kids and hidebound, authoritatian older people. It may, however, be the most shameless in its attempt to pander to an adolescent audience."

Some parts of his review are as dead-on perfect then as they are today. Williams does indeed go from wise sage to stand-up comic a couple times too many during the movie. But overall, is he right? Am I wrong? Obviously I romanticize the films of the decade to an extreme (ya think?), but I'd love to know if Roger has seen the movie in the meantime and softened his opinion at all.

In the meantime, I'm exercising the right not to walk.

[Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 1:59pm]


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