The ending of Dead Poets Society still pisses me off…

Ben Walter
Feb 23, 2018 · 4 min read

Seriously, if you haven’t watched DPS than what are you doing with your life — especially if you consider yourself a creative.

Not sure how many times I have watched DPS over the years, but enough to know the entire movie in and out. Even with that in mind, I decided to watch it again (it’s on Netflix by the way). And it brought me straight back to high school — hanging out with all of my weird, artsy friends in theatre. To be honest, a lot of my inner dialouge has been about those times recently. The exchange of ideas, carefree attitudes, and creating stuff together — I miss it. Of course, the students we follow in Peter Weir’s film don’t necessarily get away with their carefree attitudes, in fact it bites them in the proverbial ass.

Which brings me to the ending.

One of our main characters, Neil Perry (Robery Sean Leonard), has been going through a rough year at Welton Academy. He has artistic aspirations, but his father is violently opposed to that sort of nonsense. And here’s the rub, Neil is brilliant — a character that I would believe could go on to win Pulitzer’s or Oscar’s, things very much worthy of note. But, Neil’s star burns out to early. His father’s negative reaction to his potrayal of Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and subsequent stunt: pulling Neil out of Welton and planning to send him to miltary school, leave Neil believing death is better than the rest of his life. Of course, this kind of thought process is instilled in Neil from a quote his fantastic teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), exposed him to:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.” — Henry David Thoreau

This brings us to the catalyst that removed Mr. Keating from his position, a position in which he was doing great work: teaching these students to think for themselves. It all hinges on this quote, that Neil took to far.

I understand why he did, I’ve been there myself. The world doesn’t quite understand your quirks or passions, and they fight to put every roadblock in your way — taking your own life seems like a solution. However, I was lucky, I lived in an era that had begun to accept artistic careers and the strange ones out there. Thank goodness — artistic genius, plus a few good encouragers, equals fantastic movies, books, and so much more.

And Neil had a group of encouragers, his peers and his mentor, but as we know, sometimes these people aren’t enough to overcome one’s family — even if that family isn’t like Neil’s, but realists without the violent consequences. I know from my own experience and others, that pursuing art was a noble endeavor for a time, but then one has to grow up — not as violent, but still damaging.

Why must we “grow up”, as the realists would put it? I have struggled with this term for my entire life. I wanted to be older so I could do the things I wanted, but then I got older and couldn’t do the things I wanted — bills, obligations, and a desire to please others got in the way. I think Neil was struggled with the last part a lot.

It pains me to see creative people not nurtured well. That’s why the ending of DPS still pisses me off. Yes, we must take care of responsibilities, but what is the point of life if we cannot pursue our passions. It’s a life not live to be honest.

Here’s my solution — love each other, listen to each other, understand one another. We are all in this together.