The concepts of Belonging In “Dead Poet’s Society”

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 2 November 2016

The concepts of Belonging In “Dead Poet’s Society”

Belonging can forcibly act upon individuals, causing them to feel a loss of identity and relationships. They can feel isolated and segregated because of this force, unable to discover themselves as individuals. When belonging is externally forced upon them, it challenges their lives, causing various negative consequences. These negative consequences, in terms of loss of identity and relationships, are witnessed in the 1989 film “Dead Poet’s Society”, directed by Peter Weir, occurring because of individuals being forced to belong. This concept of belonging can be examined in reference to two primary characters of the film, Neil Perry and Todd Anderson. Both characters are forced to belong to their family structures and high expectations.

Dead Poet’s Society highlights many complex concepts of belonging, being forced to belong in particular. Throughout the entirety of the film we are able to see Neil Perry’s character have belonging externally forced upon him, particularly in terms of his family structure and his family’s high expectations of him. Peter Weir has skilfully utilized techniques in order to make viewers more aware of this external force, which acts upon Neil.

The viewers are able to become well aware that Neil Perry is forced to belong to his ‘unreal’ family. His relationship with his subservient mother and domineering father is one consisting of many barriers. We gain insight into this dysfunctional relationship that Neil is forced to belong to in the beginning of the film in the scene where Neil ‘disputes’ his father in front of his friends. In this scene, Mr Perry is being controlling, demanding Neil to drop one of his extra-curriculum activities in order for him to focus more on school. Close-up shots of Neil arguing with his father emphasize how he is forced to belong to this relationship that brings him much anger.

Neil Perry is also forced to belong to his family’s high expectations of him in the film “Dead Poet’s Society”. Viewers are able to view this force in the scene towards the end of the film where Neil and his father are seriously discussing his future career. Mr Perry is telling Neil that he is going to be a doctor, whether he likes it or not. Neil, on the other hand, wants to be his own person with a good sense of identity. However, he doesn’t stand up for this because he is afraid of the negative consequences that will be sprung on him by his father. Being forced to belong to his family’s high expectations leads to a complete disintegration of Neil’s identity, making him feel isolated and trapped. Neil then chooses to take the easy way out of his crises’ with his father by committing suicide. Techniques such as non diegetic music, shadow and darkness as well as an allusion to Christ (as he was on the cross) are all used by Peter Weir in order to display how being forced to belong negatively affected Neil.

Shy Todd Anderson also has belonging forced upon him in the film “Dead Poet’s Society”. He is forced to belong to his family structure and to high expectations of Welton Academy in this film, which cause him to feeling a loss of identity and relationships. Peter Weir highlights this force and the negative consequences it causes through the usage of techniques.

Todd Anderson is forced to belong to his neglecting, biological family structure. During the film it is evident that Todd received barely any attention from his parents. The relationship between them all is barely existent and Todd is displayed in this film as their dutiful son, low on their priorities. Todd’s loss of relationship due to belonging forcibly acting upon him is seen displayed in the scene of his birthday. Todd receives a desk set for the second year in the row, feeling unwanted. Peter Weir has creatively used techniques to show this concept of belonging. Long shots of Todd being on his own as well as darkness/shadows emphasize how being forced to belong to his family structure has led him to feel a sense of loss in both his identity and his relationship with his parents.

At the beginning of the film Todd is known as the new student of Welton Academy. The initiation into this school for Todd is tough due to him being forced into attending it by his parents. With this transition comes high expectations of Todd by teachers at Welton Academy as seen in the statement “you have some big shoes to fill” due to Todd’s older brother having had been one of the ‘finest’ who had previously attended this school. These expectations of Todd raised his self-doubt and quietness to a higher level, causing him to feel a loss of his self-identity. Close up shots of Todd speaking with headmaster Nolan shows how Mr Nolan’s high expectations of Todd are making him feel uneasy, already contributing greatly to a loss of his identity.

A loss of identity and relationships occurs due to belonging being forced upon individuals. Individuals being forcibly made to belong are challenged, and are negatively affected. This is primly displayed in the film “Dead Poet’s Society”, in regards to characters Neil Perry and Todd Anderson.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 November 2016

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