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Netflix Pick: Finding Extraordinary in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)

Today's Pick is a smart and moving film starring Robin Williams.

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 drama about an English teacher who inspires his students to look at poetry with a different perspective of authentic knowledge and feelings.

Today’s Netflix Pick is an emotional drama that many consider one the best films in lead actor Robin Williams‘ career. Along with Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard, the movie mostly earned high praise for its performances and themes and became a box office success. It’s Dead Poets Society and it’s what you’re watching tonight. Here’s why.

Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society, 1989 © Touchstone Pictures

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THE STORY: Directed by Peter Weir and set in the 1959, it follows young Todd Anderson (Hawke), an introverted high school student at Welton Academy in Vermont, an all-male prep school with a distinguished reputation. He dorms with one of the school’s more gifted students, Neil Perry (Leonard) and soon joins his friend’s tight knit-group. They all attend English class, led by John Keating (Williams), who uses a very unconventional approach, encouraging the boys to ‘make their lives extraordinary’. This often rubs up against the school’s more traditional standards but inspires his students to restart an unsanctioned club – once enlisting Keating – called the Dead Poets Society where the boys meet off campus and read various poetry, sometimes of their own verse. It all has profound effect on the boys and alters the lives, not always to the acceptance of others.

Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society, 1989 © Touchstone Pictures

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WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Williams was already a hugely famous comedic entertainer by the late 80s, but showed surprising skill as a dramatic actor as well, earning an Oscar nod for his work in Barry Levinson‘s Good Morning Vietnam (1987), so it wasn’t so unexpected that he’d do the same with Dead Poets Society. However, he largely abandons any of his trademark rapid-fire stand-up routine (aside from a bit using various voices to spice up some Shakespeare) and keeps things very restrained. Yes, the film is purposefully constructed to elicit the most emotional impact from its audience, but nonetheless has a terrific message for anyone paying attention. A deeply satisfying, sometimes shattering, experience, Dead Poets Society is a timeless classic well worth watching (again). It’s streaming on Netflix right now.  

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