Friday, August 22, 2014

Oh captain my captain

My favourite movie for many years was "Dead Poets' Society". Being a drama student I guess I felt I could relate to some of what the boys went through. Theatre was my mode of self expression, and I was also trying to find that balance between being brave and seizing the day, while at the same time being expected to fit in with societies norms and structures.

The film was also my first introduction to Robin Williams, and he quickly became a favourite actor of mine. I loved the passion, the integrity and the courage of his character in Dead Poet's Society - I, too, wanted to be challenged to rip out the pages of the textbook, emerse myself in poetry, express anger wholeheartedly and be encouraged to go think for myself.

In many of his roles Robin Williams seemed able to capture complex elements of the human spirit, whether it is the heartbroken yet tough-love psychologist in Good Will Hunting, desperate father in Mrs Doubtfire, or radio presenter in Good Morning Vietnam. And his comedy always had a depth to it.

The most memorable scene in Dead Poet's Society for me was the one where Robin Williams' character returns to collect a few personal items after he has been asked to leave the school quietly. He has been scapegoated as the cause of his student's suicide death and the class has gone back to using the textbook and thinking within the box. You begin to wonder whether the teacher had any impact at all. But one boy dares to stand up, to express his gratitude and sense of injustice as a small act of civil disobedience, and gradually the others follow. I am always in floods of tears at this point.

So, as I mourn the departure of a man whose life work touched so many people, I give thanks for the ways that he made us laugh, encouraged us to seize the day, and bore witnessed to the complex realities of being human. I want to stand up on my desk and address him with the respect he deserves: "Oh captain, my captain".

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