Wednesday, June 21, 2006

gather ye rosebuds while ye may

I know the movie came out a hundred years ago. And I know that I have seen it a hundred times. But Dead Poets Society just keeps growing on me more and more each time I watch it.

After watching it again this past weekend, one scene has been playing over and over in my head. And that is what I love about this movie...each time I watch it another scene grabs me.

Well, this time it won't let go.

In the scene, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) has just asked Todd (Ethan Hawke) to read aloud a poem that he had written for the class. Todd, being shy and ackward, says that he doesn't want to and didn't even write a poem. So Mr. Keating has him stand up in front of the class and points to a picture of Walt Whitman on the wall. The scene proceeds:

KEATING: The picture of Uncle Walt up there. What does he remind you of? Don't think. Answer. Go on.

(Keating begins to circle around Todd.)

TODD: A m-m-madman.

KEATING: What kind of madman? Don't think about it. Just answer again.

TODD: A c-crazy madman.

KEATING: No, you can do better than that. Free up your mind. Use your imagination. Say the first thing that pops into your head, even if it's total gibberish. Go on, go on.

TODD: Uh, uh, a sweaty-toothed madman.

KEATING: Good God, boy, there's a poet in you, after all. There, close your eyes. Close your eyes. Close 'em. Now, describe what you see.

(Keating puts his hands over Todd's eyes and they begin to slowly spin around.)

TODD: Uh, I-I close my eyes.


TODD: Uh, and this image floats beside me.

KEATING: A sweaty-toothed madman?

TODD: A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain.

KEATING: Oh, that's excellent. Now, give him action. Make him do something.

TODD: H-His hands reach out and choke me.

KEATING: That's it. Wonderful. Wonderful.

(Keating removes his hands from Todd but Todd keeps his eyesclosed.)

TODD: And, and all the time he's mumbling.

KEATING: What's he mumbling?

TODD: M-Mumbling truth. Truth is like, like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.

(The students begin to laugh and Todd opens his eyes. Keating quickly gestures for him to close them again.)

KEATING: Forget them, forget them. Stay with the blanket. Tell me about that blanket.

TODD: Y-Y-Y-You push it, stretch it, it'll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it'll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying to the moment we leave dying, it will just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.

(Todd opens his eyes. The class is silent. Then they begin to clap and cheer.)

KEATING: (whispering to Todd) Don't you forget this.

What is it about that scene? Why have I been unable to escape it?

I think one reason is the awakening of giftedness. Beauty, truth, all lies in us, asleep and futile. Until someone or something breathes life into it. In the scene it was almost as if Todd couldn't help but let the poetic imagery drip from his mouth like a maple tree first tapped. That moves me. As an artist. As a human.

Secondly, and on a much darker note, I love the way he desribes "truth". Well, I shouldn't say I love it. Actually I find it quite unsettling. Scroll up and read it again. A blanket that leaves your feet cold...pull it, stretch will never be will never cover will only cover our faces as we scream.

As a Christian, I cling to THE Truth. I must. But to be honest, in my darkest moments...the moments when doubt no longer creeps, but stampedes...I have often felt the same. That the Truth I hold so dearly is nothing more than a blanket that will never truly cover all of me. That its only real use is covering my eyes and ears as I scream, giving me the false illusion of safety and protection from the broken world around me.

Now, I know...with as much confidence as I know that I exist...that Todd's description of truth is, indeed, comletely inaccurate. And yet it connects with something inside of me. That is the beauty of poetry. It isn't science or math. It isn't formulaic or systematic. It isn't about right and wrong. That is what makes it dangerous. And that is what makes it beautiful. It is about giving voice to the deepest parts of what makes us alive...what makes us human., that is one good movie.

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