Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Dead "Blow-It" Society

This Jeremy thing raised other issues for me on the theme of suicide. The one that's on my mind now is the way the movie The Dead Poet Society ends.

That movie came out in 1989, just after I graduated high school, so I was still pretty fresh to that experience and I related on a very visceral level.  I saw it with friends, other creative guys who like to write, and it struck a lot of chords with us. But I felt then, and feel even more strongly now, that the device of Neil's suicide in the movie turned it into a maudlin shadow of the triumph it might have been; that every expectation earlier in the movie demanded it should have been. The movie would have been greatly improved if the powerful build-up to Neil's suicide had only seemed to be that: if he had sat down and written a long note, leading the audience to fear that was his intention, but instead had run away to pursue his dreams... that would have been a much better way for the movie to end. All the same things could have happened: the pressuring of the other boys by their authorities, the firing of Mr. Keating, the powerful affirmation of (most of) his students at the end... but it could have been capped with a wonderful scene at the very end with Neil, five or ten years later, tromping the boards on Broadway in some middling role, only to meet up with Mr. Keating backstage. We could have had a movie that told teenagers not to bend in the face of adversity to their dreams and ambitions. Instead we got one that said don't strive, don't plan, don't bide your time: if they don't understand you, if you don't get what you want right away, kill yourself. Then they'll be sorry. Then they'll love and appreciate you. Well, every teenager in the world is born with that already hardwired into them. Did we really need this movie's ending to re-enforce that?

I always loved the first two thirds of that movie, despite its low-key pomposity. But for me, the last third puts the lie to everything Keating was saying in the most fundamental way possible. I'm amazed that writers who get paid millions couldn't see that.

1 comment:

Scott Palmer, Ph.D. said...

They might have seen the problem. Movie scripts are rewritten by many hands, even during shooting.

I didn't see "Dead Poets Society," but I heard good things about it. The suicide movie that I remember well is "Heathers," which was a black comedy that chickened out at the end.