The film explores the contradicting concepts of romanticism and realism. Welton Academy is an all-boys preparatory school whose dogma is based on tradition, discipline, and excellence. At the start of every semester, parents leave their sons at the hands of the teachers at Welton, hoping that they will have successful futures…
A new English teacher who is a Welton alumnus, John Keating, opens the eyes of his students and engages them to a world they never imagined before.
The story has several key characters, and most of them have their own “existentialist moments” throughout the film. However, aside from the teacher John Keating, the character who goes through a major change, even at the film’s ending, is Todd Anderson. Todd is a newcomer at Welton and is shy and insecure, mainly because he is the brother of Welton’s former valedictorian. He lives under the shadow of his brother, and constantly fears that he might say worthless and hollow things.
John Keating begins his lectures by pointing out to his students the value of seizing the day. He teaches them about the dangers of conformity, and about finding their own voices. He instills in them the wisdom of always trying to see things from a different perspective in order to gain further and deeper knowledge of things they already thought they know. Amid the oddities of these new ideas, the students learn to open their eyes to a whole new world that makes them face the harshness of realities. Existential Heroes As mentioned above, several of the film’s characters can be considered existential heroes. However, there is a difference between romanticism and realism. Furthermore, there is that grey area between these two opposing concepts that can be considered as existential wisdom. Although several characters display this existential wisdom, almost all of them lean more toward either romanticism or realism. In comparing the two however, romanticism leans more toward existentialism. Neil Perry, Knox Overstreet, and Charles Dalton are romanticists. Richard Cameron and the rest of the Welton staff, excluding John Keating, are realists. The boys’ parents are realists. Only Todd Anderson and John Keating fall in-between. They can be called anti-romantic romanticists. Both these romanticists and anti-romantic romanticists go through several existential moments in the film. They are willing to give their “life” for their beliefs, they take responsibility for their actions, they try to stand on their own two feet, and they act according to their inner decisions. Individual versus the Herd Neil, Knox, Charles, John, and Todd display the mentality of individualism. They do not go with the idea of the rest of the herd. Neil, despite his willingness to be the dutiful son and follow his parents’ wishes, he eventually finds a way to, even once, stand up for what he wants and what he believes in. He auditions for the lead role in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” stage play and, despite the warnings of his father, pursues this goal. He chooses to go after what he desires despite the “tradition” embedded in him by the school and his environment. After the play night, his father informs him that he will be pulled out from Welton and be transferred to Braighton Military School. Neil believes that this is a way to ultimately stop him from pursuing his dreams, so that night, he commits suicide. He chooses death over living without his dreams. He refuses to go with what the rest of the herd believes is appropriate for a man of his status. Knox falls in love with Chris, a girl who is engaged to the son of his parents’ friends. He pursues the girl, despite the warnings of the girl’s boyfriend that he will be killed if he ever goes near Chris again. In a normal set-up, he would not have gone after the girl who is engaged to his parents’ friends. It would have been deemed inappropriate by the society. Additionally, the ...
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