John Keating (Robin Williams)
How daring of Williams’ John Keating to teach his students classic poetry. Sure, you’d think, isn’t that what prep school English teachers are supposed to do? But in the conformist 1950s (and for that matter, the conformist 1980s, when the movie was released), teaching these future doctors and lawyers and business executives that there’s value in verse seems downright subversive.
Indeed, when his charges take his lessons about the love of lofty language too far – and a student kills himself because his dad won’t let him be a Shakespearean actor — Keating gets canned. Too bad, since Williams, with his shtick tuned down a bit, is still a charismatic, funny, passionate instructor, one who may even have turned a generation of young moviegoers on to the joys of Walt Whitman.
It’s certainly moving in the climactic scene when his gang of young nonconformists all stand up on their desks together and begin to recite, “O Captain, my Captain…” Okay, maybe they didn’t quite get the point of the whole non-conformism thing…
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