Have you ever told your father what you just told me? About your passion for acting? You ever showed him that?
I can’t talk to him this way.
Then you’re acting for him, too. You’re playing the part of the dutiful son. Now, I know this sounds impossible, but you have to talk to him. You have to show him who you are, what your heart is!
I’ll be damned if that scene didn’t nearly break me.
Films about schools are an emotional rabbit hole, almost impossible to not fall down and get deeply attached to. Regardless of how your felt about your own days of spending 9-3 in a classroom, they evoke a sort of nostalgia for either the romanticised version of your experience, or a longing for the one you wished you had. It mostly relies on an inspirational teacher character, because, after all, most of us had one, at least. That one teacher that somehow understood you in a way that no one else could, made the classroom a place where you could be yourself, that made school a place you looked forward to coming to everyday, changing your life forever. That one that cared for every student that crossed their path – their interests, their opinions, not treating them as an insignificant child. When it comes to these films, my favourite is Monsieur Lazhar, an absolutely beautiful film that nailed this without resorting to manipulation, especially in its final scene that never fails to reduce me to tears because of how much I relate to it.
Around 20 years before Monsieur Lazhar through, there was Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, revolving around a similarly devoted teacher that upsets the system and changes the lives of the students at a school very set in its ways. The film is remembered for its performance from Robin Williams as John Keating, the dynamic English teacher in question who encourages a bunch of sheltered teenage boys in the early 1960s to pursue passion instead of what’s written in front of them, when in fact its about the effect he has on his students, the young ensemble cast (including a very young Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard) taking up much of the runtime. it’s the type of film tailor-made for the Oscars in the late 1980s, a formula that has just been slightly updated for a lot of ‘prestige’ contenders now – cloying music, slow-mo reaction shots, affirmations that immediately set themselves in your mind. At two hours, it’s much, much too long and only intermittently engaging, taking a real nosedive with a plot device in the last 20 minutes, delving into heavier topics and cynicism somewhat unsuccessfully, but the performances exude an irresistible warmth and camaraderie that are a joy to behold. Williams is magnetic, and, particularly in his scenes opposite him, Hawke is terrific. The real reason to watch it is the dynamic between Williams and his co-stars.
The now famous final scene is bound to bring a tear to the eye of a cynic, because of what I mentioned previously – relatability. Watching a bunch of teenagers stand up against the school administration is emotional because of how many times you, in your many moments of frustration as a student, felt united against an enemy, wishing with your peers that you could do that, be bold enough to defy discipline. You can’t help but get a lump in your throat at that.