In Dead Poets Society (1989), a charismatic teacher (Robin Williams) tries to instill a love for poetry into his students. In All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), a charismatic teacher (Arnold Lucy) tries to imbue his students with a love for their fatherland.
Both teachers, and both movies, employ similar tactics. The mise-en-scène, the dialogue and the action are remarkably alike. Both teachers make their case using Latin phrases. They both employ military metaphors to stir up their students. The rows of pupils are gradually goaded into action, until they stand up and loudly and proudly agree with their respective teachers. Pages are torn out and tossed about. Triumphant music rises towards the end of the scenes, underscoring the symbolic victory of the teachers.
And yet, the meaning of both scenes couldn’t be more different. In Dead Poets Society, English teacher John Keating wants his students to think for themselves. He teaches them to appreciate the beauty of poetry, the power of words. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the jingoistic teacher Kantorek wants his students to fall in line with national (war) policy and forget about their private ambitions. He teaches against the arts, praising the power of the nation and the glory to be found in war.
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