These words from the late, great Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society inspired a generation. As an injury lawyer, I deal with more than a few Latin words in both law and medicine. But this term, and the movie that made it famous, Dead Poets Society, are different. The kind of different that compels me to write a movie review decades after the film is made, as we all mourn the suicide of the star actor.
"Carpe diem" is Latin for “Seize the Day.” Dead Poets Society is regarded as one of the finest “coming of age” films in cinematic history. In fact, the film has been named among the best ever.
It is not truly a film about poets—living or dead. It involves them, quotes them, and gives new life to them, but it is not actually a film about poetry.
It is not actually a film about a society or university club. It shows the conflicts, the peer pressure, the joy and the power of mob rule, but it is not primarily a film about a club.
It is not, in the main, a film about school and leaving home, and the conflict of demanding rich parent whose lofty expectations of their son are rivaled only by their vast emotional distance. Dead Poets Society tells that tragic story that leads, almost inevitably, to the suicide of the one the most promising young men. It is ironic now.
In truth, it hammers home the message that we are all careening toward death at such speed that we should seize the day! Today. We are promised not even all of it. Certainly tomorrow is not certain. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today… Tomorrow will be dying,” John Keating quotes, expertly played by the late Williams.
Finding courage in the hopelessness of the fact that we will all die, may strike one as entirely contradictory.
But, you can see and hear it in an uncomfortable scene in which the students are shuffled in the hallway to view the black–and–white photographs of long forgotten classes. "They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts…Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible---just like you feel … They believe they're destined for great things---just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope---just like you … these boys are now fertilizing daffodils… But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you … “
He concludes in a whisper, “’Carpe diem,’ ‘seize the day,’ boys … make your lives … extraordinary!”
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