Peter Weir – “Society of the Dead Poets”
In the 1994 film Il Postino, a poor postman told Pablo Neruda that “poetry does not belong to those who write it but to those who need it”. This is the central thesis of Peter Weir’s 1989 drama about the age-old battle between idealism and realism. Over the years, Circle of Missing Poets provided comfort to some while others dismissed it as a collection of meaningless platitudes. Three decades later, the lure of Circle of Missing Poets has it always stayed or has it never existed in the first place?
Set in an elite boys prep school where everyone is white and privileged, Peter Weir captures the rigidity of a conservative environment where parents project unrealistic expectations on their children and teachers literally spank students to comply. Obedience is drilled into their malleable skulls and the means are justified by the so-called noble end – they will all become doctors, lawyers, bankers and engineers. Weir constructs a compelling representation of the education system as visualized by Louis Althusser, Ideological State Apparatuses That Successfully Fabricate Subjects Instead of “Free” Individuals.
Many cite Robin Williams’ performance as Mr. Keating, the unconventional English teacher, as one of the “inspiring” elements of Circle of Missing Poets. They are not wrong, as Keating was purposely designed to be a disruptive force in the suffocating atmosphere of Welton Academy. It frees boys from meaningless literary theories that are intentionally obscured by their authors to pass as “deep.” Instead, Keating takes the boys out of the classroom and engages in methods of teaching poetry that seem radical but make just as much sense as mathematical analyzes of the greatness of literature. .
In its terribly unconvincing trial for Atlantic, Kevin JH Dettmar argues that the biggest failure of Circle of Missing Poets is that he is “anti-intellectual” in his treatment of literary scholars. He insists that academics who have dedicated their lives to writing esoteric and onanistic research papers on equally complacent subjects are hurt by Society of Dead Poets populist approach to understanding poetry. On the contrary, Peter Weir’s film is so insufficient because his critique of literary criticism is not scathing enough. Dettmar writes as an accomplice to epistemological dogmatism just to seek validation from STEM researchers: “We will insist on being welcomed to the table as professionals. In doing so, he refuses to recognize the demand for reform to an outdated system that dispenses obsolete knowledge and claims it is revealing.
While many of the dramatic elements of the narrative are inherently flawed (such as the preoccupation with First World issues or the way a suicide is described in an almost comic manner), it would be wrong to dismiss Society of Dead Poets ideological message completely. Underneath all of Hollywood didacticism, Weir actually addresses a relevant development in the realm of literary criticism. Roland Barthes famously wrote that criticism will die if we do not regard the authors of the texts we read as dead, ushering in a multiplicity of our own interpretations that form the basis of the real value of art. Keating advocates the same, albeit in a sensational way, but it’s only a professional risk for a supposedly rebellious teacher in a movie.
Society of Dead Poets The emphasis on the importance of nonconformity and free thought while being trapped in the pernicious framework of the education system is exhausting because it has been repeated so often. Weir orchestrates everything in an efficient way that achieves his goal of manipulating the audience into falling in love with the idea of poetry. Somewhere along the way, he forgets to ask us to think more deeply about the ideological indoctrination perpetuated by a faulty system. Enough unfortunately, Circle of Missing Poets pulls his punches during his criticism of the academic posture. Due to the reluctance of geriatric academics who refuse to let go of their educational insecurities, the waning relevance of literary criticism continues to be an observable and tragic phenomenon.