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Dead Poets Society is a 1989 film starring Robin Williams and directed by Peter Weir. Set in 1959 at a conservative and aristocratic boys prep school, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students to change their lives of conformity through his teaching of poetry and literature. The movie is a modern interpretation of the transcendentalist movement.

The story is set in Welton Academy in Vermont and was filmed at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware. The script, written by Tom Schulman, was based on his life at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seven boys, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston) attend the prestigious Welton Academy prep school, which is based on four principles: Tradition, Honour, Discipline and Excellence.

On the first day of class, the students are introduced to their overwhelming and extraordinary curriculum by sullen headmaster Gale Nolan (Norman Lloyd). However, their new English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) tells the students that they may call him "O Captain! My Captain!" (the title of a Walt Whitman poem) if they feel daring. His first lesson is unorthodox by Welton standards, whistling the 1812 Overture and taking them out of the classroom to focus on the idea of carpe diem (Latin for 'seize the day') by looking at the pictures of former Welton students in a trophy case. In a later class, Keating has Neil read the introduction to their poetry textbook, an academic essay entitled "Understanding Poetry" by the fictional Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, PhD., which describes how to place the quality of a poem on a scale, and rate it with a number. Keating finds the idea of such mathematical literary criticism ridiculous and instructs his pupils to rip the introductory essay out of their textbooks. After a brief reaction of disbelief, they do so gleefully as Keating congratulates them with the memorable line "Begone, J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D!" He later has the students stand on his desk as a reminder to look at the world in a different way, just as Henry David Thoreau intended when he wrote, "The universe is wider than our views of it" (Walden).

From that point on, the boys set out on a journey of awakening, discovering that authority can and must always act as a guide, but the only place where one can find out one's true identity is within oneself. To that end, the boys secretly revive an old literary club of which Keating had been a member, called the Dead Poets Society. Todd experiences a particular transformation when, out of a severe episode of self-consciousness, he fails to complete a creative writing assignment and is subsequently taken through an exercise of uncharacteristic self-expression, realizing the creative potential he truly possesses. One of the boys, Charlie Dalton, takes his new personal freedom too far and publishes a profane and unauthorized article in the school flyer. In this article, Charlie states that he wants to have girls allowed at Welton. To the amusement of the other boys, he fakes a phone call from God saying that girls should be allowed at Welton. Dean Nolan paddles and interrogates Charlie about the others involved. Charlie says he acted alone.

Knox meets a beautiful young girl named Christine and falls in love with her, later using his poetry flair that he learned in Keating's great English class to woo her. He presents one of these poems in class as his poetry assignment, and although he is somewhat embarrassed, he is applauded by Keating for writing such a courageous and heartfelt poem on love. Knox later travels off Welton grounds to Christine's public school and upon finding her, he recites his poem to her.

Neil, without his father's permission, tries out for a local production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He desperately wants to be an actor, but knows his extremely strict father (Kurtwood Smith) will disapprove. One day when Neil walks into his dorm room, he finds his father waiting for him. He orders Neil to withdraw from the play, but Neil goes against his wishes and delivers a sterling performance as Puck.

Infuriated by this affront to his authority, Neil's father plans to pull him out of Welton and to enroll him in Braden Military School to prepare him for Harvard University and a career in medicine. Unable to cope with the future that awaited him and equally unable to make his father understand his emotions, Neil commits suicide with his father's revolver.

At the request of Neil's parents, Nolan launches an investigation into the tragedy. Richard is solicited for information and is brought to a meeting with the school governors and board of regents. Under vigorous questioning from Charlie, Richard admits that he not only squealed on them but has also turned Keating into the scapegoat. Charlie viciously attacks Richard, but Richard urges them to let Keating take the fall rather than risk ruining their lives.

Neil's father takes no responsibility for his son's death and instead holds Keating responsible. Todd is called to Nolan's office, where his parents are waiting. Todd is forced to admit being a member of the Dead Poets Society. He is also forced to sign a written confession casting blame on Keating for abusing his authority as a teacher, inciting the boys to restart the Dead Poets Society (even though they restarted it themselves) and—most seriously—encouraging Neil to flout his father's authority. It is implied that Knox, Richard, Steven and Gerard were also pressured into signing the confession. Keating is fired.

In the film's dramatic conclusion, the boys return to English class following Keating's dismissal. The class is now being temporarily taught by Nolan, who has the boys read from the very Pritchard essay they had ripped out at the start of the semester. As the lesson drones on, Keating enters the room to retrieve a few belongings. On his way out, Todd apologizes to Keating for having signed the confession, citing the pressure exerted by the Academy and his parents. Keating acknowledges this. Nolan sternly orders Todd to be quiet and demands that Keating leave at once. As he exits the door, Keating is startled to hear "O Captain! My Captain!" being called out by Todd, who has stood on his desk as Keating made him to do earlier, demonstrating the new perspective Keating has taught him. Enraged, Nolan warns Todd to sit down immediately or face expulsion, only to be defied. Then, one after another, the members of the Dead Poets Society (excepting Cameron, conspicuously) climb onto their desks and look at Mr. Keating proudly.
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