An all boys prestigious boarding school, a love for historic poetry, their eccentric English teacher, and a secret society. What could go wrong? (spoilers ahead).

Dead Poets Society, a film that was able to be inspiring and impactful without being corny and cheesy. Set in 1959, the story follows a group of students who are bound to prosper, their future career paths - doctors, lawyers, bankers - already meticulously mapped out by their parents who expect nothing less than the highest success for their sons. These boys are motivated by the need to fulfil their parents' respective extortionate standards, constantly striving to conform in order to succeed in the regimented education system; that is until they meet Mr Keating. Unlike any English teacher the students have ever had, he pushes, or more likely shatters, the boundaries of conformity and passionately believes that the purpose of education is for students to think for themselves. In their first lesson together, Mr Keating introduces his class to the phrase ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) - the boys interpret this as Mr Keating telling them to impulsively, recklessly and literally seize the day but they are sorely mistaken as we later discover, “There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for”. Keatings intention behind the emphasis he placed on this phrase was rather a reminder to stay alert, in the midst of their trivial activities, petty pursuits, and superficial distractions - to focus on what is really important. 

Neil Perry - a major cause of conflict in Dead Poets Society - is one of Keating's students, who aspires to be an actor, but his controlling and dominating father has contrasting expectations for his son. In reality it was Neil's father who drove him to suicide, some may argue he may as well have been holding the gun. In their harrowing grief, Neil’s friends are determined to place the weight of responsibility for Neil’s death entirely on Mr. Perry. His (Neil's father's) heartbreak is evident when he discovers his son's dead body, his lament is a reminder (to the audience and him) of life's delicacy and death's permanence. It is a real-life illustration of Keating's existential message (carpe diem), albeit a particularly shocking and calamitous one. 

Audiences have often disputed about who is to blame for Neil's suicide, but I believe both men - Mr. Perry and Mr. Keating -  will bear the burden for the rest of their lives, constantly questioning what they did or didn't do that led to Neil's tragic end and what they could have done to prevent it. The two main themes of Dead Poets Society are strikingly different - death and life. The pursuit for the meaning of existence, what it means to be a human being, all fuelled by great classic literature. Keating's speech sufficiently delves to the root of the question:

`We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman: “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, / Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the fools. . . . What good amid these, O me, O life? / Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” . . . What will your verse be?’