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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dead Poets Society has very uplifting messages especially for teens about seizing the day and embracing poetry as a way toward thinking for yourself and positive self-expression. But it also deals with the suicide of one of the main characters (the gunshot isn't shown, but the parents are shown holding their son afterward, hysterical). Everyone smokes a lot (mostly a reflection of the time mixed with teen rebellion) and one main character drinks shots at a high school party.
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What's the story?
In DEAD POETS SOCIETY, the teens attending one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the country aren't prepared for the new English teacher Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). He encourages these future doctors and lawyers with pushy parents to think for themselves and "seize the day!" He also subtly encourages the boys to form the Dead Poets Society. They sneak out at night repeatedly to read poetry and bond over girls they like and the pressures they face. It's all healthy fun until Charlie (Gale Hansen) taunts the school with hints of their activities, leading to a full inquiry. But that's only the start of the trouble Mr. Keating and the Dead Poets Society faces.
Is it any good?
Older kids fall hard for this stirring coming-of-age drama; they love the way it challenges them to think for themselves. The story also tugs at their heartstrings. They get to know the boys -- their loves, their goals, and their fears. They root for the characters, wanting them to achieve their dreams (one boy wants to play the sax, another wants to become an actor).
Despite Robin William's fine (if a tad cloying) performance, Dead Poets Society belongs to the boys, and the ensemble cast of young male actors (including Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, and Robert Sean Leonard) is up to the task. The movie also has a spell-casting ambiance, especially in the cave scenes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how poetry is explained and used in Dead Poets Society. Did this movie inspire you to read more, be more creative, or even "seize the day"?
Which movies inspire you? Why? What about teachers?
Families can also talk about Neil, his oppressive father, and his irreversible decision. What help is out there for those contemplating the same actions? What are the warning signs that someone needs help?
- In theaters: June 9, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: March 4, 2002
- Cast: Dylan Kussman, Ethan Hawke, Robin Williams
- Director: Peter Weir
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Character strengths: Compassion, Integrity
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: emotional intensity
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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