At the beginning of the Dead Poet’s Society everyone is sitting. Sitting. Sitting.
They’re handed text books. Told to do this. Then that. Then this again.
Then John Keating shows up.
The very first thing he does is makes them stand up. He takes them into another room. Shows them the pictures of people long dead. People that aren’t even sitting anymore. They’re “feeding worms”. And he tells them the credo that is the theme of the entire movie: “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys,” he tells them.
For the rest of the movie, he is making them stand. He makes them tear out the gibberish in their books, releases them from the jail of conformity, and begins to make them kick balls around and take their own strolls around the school courtyard.
But the most important moment, the moment that changes their lives, that makes Carpe Diem real, is when he makes them stand on the desk. When he tells them to see the world from a different angle.
From that moment, it all changes. From that moment, they are free. The ones that matter, anyway.
There is a world above us. A world beyond the seat of the physical earth. An abstract world that holds abstract notions, like love, inspiration, judgment, beauty and strength. These ideas are the real thing. They are manifested in our world, but they are real in the world above.
This is what Keating was trying to teach his students. He was trying to say, “There’s another world, boys! A world just beyond your physical grasp, but it’s more real than this world of textbooks, tradition, and sitting at desks. Go get it. Carpe Diem.”
Just like the boys in the movie, it is our job to stand on our desks. It is our job to rise higher, into the world of truth. The world where the abstract is the real and where the physical does not exist.
But the job does not end there. It only begins.
Keating, he doesn’t let off the boys with just a simple desk-standing. No. He pulls them out of their head-in-the-clouds cocoon and he drags them back down in this world. Because Keating understands that our job is not to live in the clouds like Todd Anderson, the horribly anxious new guy, but to bring that reality down into this world, to transform this world into pure poetry.
And so he makes them do just that. He makes them write poetry. Sit down. Take the experience of the standing to the sitting.
Just like we must do.
If you already know that the world beyond is the true world, and not just some fantasy like all those supposed “realists” (think Richard Dawkins) say, then congratulations. But the job is only half done. It’s time to start writing some poetry.
And if you don’t, or if it’s too scary, chances are a Keating will come into your life, just like he did with Todd, and he’ll take you, just like he did with Todd, and he’ll twirl you around until you can’t stand it anymore… until you’re spewing poetry.
Because this is the thing: Keating, our teacher, is in this world. He is within everyone that accepts the responsibility of taking the desk down to the chair. And the more we spread the spirit of Keating, the more we’ll start breaking the spirit of all those administrations, all those fools in their tweed jackets and arrogant posture, and we’ll break through that cloud that is hovering over the world above.
And soon enough, as we acknowledge our own inner Keating, the truth will become more and more apparent, and the guys with the true guts, the guys who have brought the abstract into the physical, they’ll be standing over all those guys who now run the world.
In the end of the movie, all the students are standing over their teacher, proudly saluting Keating. Proudly acknowledging the truth.
And please G-d, one day we will do the same.
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