How I Got 'Dead Poets Society' Wrong

And how a great professor changed my mind.
How I Got 'Dead Poets Society' Wrong
Robin William in 'Dead Poets Society'

Alissa's note: This reflection is part of a series on "Watch This Way" called "Rewind," in which movie critics and film buffs reflect on a film they watched in the past and what it means to them today.

He’s leaving. I can hardly believe it. Dr. Luke Reinsma, professor of English at Seattle Pacific University, is retiring.

Two weeks ago I revisited Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society for the first time in twenty years. Watching Robin Williams play that charismatic English teacher who transforms the lives of repressed prep-school boys, I had flashbacks to my undergraduate years when Reinsma was my academic advisor.

As a freshman at SPU in 1989, I found that this idiosyncratic professor lived up to the reputation I’d heard from former students. I learned to love how, when he handed back my essays, he had written almost as much on them as I had written in them. An exploration of The Canterbury Tales, a coffee conversation about the origins of the Arthur legends, an independent study of Old English, a post-movie talk about Quentin Tarantino—every time we met, we dug deep into the substance of our subject.

Now, he’s boxing the books that blessed his office with an aroma of scholarship and mystery. I’ll miss his Richard Farnsworth mustache. His quick and mischievous eyes. The perpetually windblown hair that he sculpts wildly with both hands as if trying to wring out the words he needs to express his big ideas.

He changed my mind about so many things. I realize now that, due to his influence, even my perspective on Dead Poets Society has changed—dare I say matured?

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Still shaken by news of Robin Williams’ death, ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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