Idyllic Boarding School
Dead Poets is set almost entirely at Welton Academy, a (thankfully fictional) boy's boarding school in Vermont. We spend fall and some of winter with the students at Welton. And, since they never leave (you know, the whole boarding school thing means that they live at school) we don't really, either.
School Year Blues
We begin in the fall, on the first day of class. The students gather in what looks like a church. It's Welton's formal hall, and the Headmaster uses it to address his students. The room itself is wood-paneled and a bit dark; the candles the students light as part of their ritual bring a glow to their faces.
This isn't the most colorful, exciting place.
The rest of Welton looks similar: it's functional, traditional, and a bit dreary. This is no place for Picasso paintings or strobe lights; Welton is a serious institution and so the buildings are serious, too.
Outdoors is a bit more romantic. There's a lake and plenty of trees, and the brick architecture is covered with moss. The courtyards are well kept; the grass is short. As the film progresses, leaves begin to change and fall. This lends an idyllic feel to the campus. But don't think that Welton's nature runs too wild: we still see the students doing regimented, traditional exercises, like rowing and fencing, when outdoors.
It's still Welton, after all.
When the DPS members venture out of the dorms and into nature, it becomes a bit more exciting. The forest is misty and thick, and their cave is dark and spooky. As soon as they leave Welton, things get wild.
There are only a few other occasions where we venture out of the Welton boundaries. When Knox visits Chris at school, we see a typical 1950s American high school: bright cars in the lot, sunshine, students in all sorts of colorful (non-uniform) clothing. Within the halls, the scene is bright and messy, not stuffy or dark like Welton. Bright yellow lockers and colorful sweaters, which would never work at Welton, seem right at home in the high school. And the party scene shows similar warm, lush colors and textures.
Inside Welton, the world is dreary, severe, and even grim. Outside Welton, the world is vibrant, dangerous, and alive.