Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Todd Anderson and Mr. Keating

The above names will be familiar to those of you who are admirers of the film, Dead Poets Society.  I recently watched this movie for the first time in a long time.  There are many things, many scenes in this film that appeal to me, that speak to me, that touch me. I would like to comment briefly on just one.

It is the scene where Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) is having the boys come up, one by one, to the front of the class to recite the poems they have written.  Todd Anderson, roommate of the film’s lead character, is deathly afraid of reading in public, which Mr. Keating knows.  Mr. Keating also knows that Todd is deathly afraid of expressing anything of himself, of letting anything out, of veering off for one split second from the path of conformity, duty and strict obedience that his parents and society have marked out before him.

It is for precisely these reasons that Mr. Keating – whose self-appointed mission is to inspire his students to be who they really are, instead of plastic automatons striving to fulfill the aspirations of their parents – insists that Todd come up to the front and recite his poem.  Todd reluctantly moves to the front of the class.  His pain and turmoil are obvious.  He cannot bring himself to recite. 

Sensing the task before him, Mr. Keating tells Todd to close his eyes and then starts spinning him around, peppering him with questions.  Like reeling in a huge fish, Mr. Keating goes after Todd’s soul:  urging, prompting, dragging it out, letting out the line, then reeling it back in again, always keeping the line taught. 

Finally, Todd practically explodes in a stream of poetic thoughts and emotions, revealing the depth and texture of the soul that lurks under his über-controlled surface. 

Suddenly, Mr. Keating stops turning.  Todd stops spinning. The silence in the classroom is palpable.  Everyone present is aware of what has just happened.  Then, suddenly, the class breaks into wild applause as Mr. Keating congratulates a smiling, scarcely-believing Todd who has been forever transformed by the experience.

Tears slid down my cheeks as I watched this scene (and numerous others in the movie).  I found myself thinking back on my life and what I am going through right now.  I found myself wishing that I had had a John Keating in my life as a youth, a “Captain, My Captain” who could have dragged the real me out past and through my false persona to breathe the air of authenticity, of life itself. 

Now ... I must be my own John Keating. 


I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

“What will your verse be?”


  1. I have shivers and tears as I write my response after reading your feelings and thoughts about this beautiful movie. You describe Todd's transformation and Keating's daring support so articulately. Your description captures not only the tightrope relationship of a student and teacher, but that of one who dreads to reveal one's self for fear that the self may be ugly, unaccepted and even repulsive.

    These boys develop a friendship built on trust as they discovered themselves. The society and cave provided a supportive environment of intimacy with a direct connection to nature as they experimented with sharing the depths of their souls, bodies, hearts and minds. In a way, it represents a 'cave-man' version of a blog! As good ol' Walt said: "I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world."

    Yes, Captain Invictus, you are the captain on this journey with Keatings all around you: watching as you spin, as you soar and as you doubt ... but admiring and cheering you on as you seek to seize the day and be true to your self.

    And I will sign off today with some words from Walt:
    "Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me."
    "Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
    You must travel it by yourself.
    It is not far. It is within reach.
    Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
    Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land."

    Peaceful hugs ( )

  2. One of my favorite movies, and one of my favorite scenes in that movie. Thank you for reminding me...

  3. Reminds me how much I loved that movie.

  4. Having been taught by great teachers and recognizing those "moments" of having been forever changed in my life, this touches me deeply. Having been a teacher, I've experienced first hand the miracle of transformation that can come to a student who is pressed to let go and just be, and discover the joy of learning in a new light and mentality.

    So, why can't I do this for myself here and now?

    I need to watch this movie again.