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?”