Study Guide

Dead Poets Society What's Up With the Ending?

What's Up With the Ending?

Looking for a happy ending? Might want to try a different movie. Maybe—pro-tip—one that doesn't have the word dead in the title.

The final scene of the film features the reinstatement of the status quo. Headmaster Nolan is large and in charge and leading the English class. He even makes the students read from the introduction of the book: the very same pages that Mr. Keating had them rip out.

Plus, Neil is dead, and the boys have had to sign a petition against their beloved teacher. Things seem pretty grim, and then Mr. Keating enters in order to collect his personal items. He's been fired, and all the boys know it's their fault.

Bummer.

So…who's going to save the day? Is there a way to bring Neil back, and to rehire Mr. Keating?

Nope. But that doesn't mean the film leaves us without some triumph. Despite his deep fear of public speaking, Todd stands on his desk and salutes Mr. Keating. Many of the boys follow suite, and the music swells victoriously.

Despite the lack of happy endings for some of our characters, Mr. Keating smiles and thanks them. They've shown him that they learned from him, and the lesson was a big one: don't conform. Instead, seize the day.

Would the message have been as poignant if the film hadn't ended there and had instead shown Mr. Keating happy at a new job, or the boys getting into colleges? Maybe. But ending on the shot of Todd standing triumphantly allows the audience to ruminate on just what a happy ending means, and whether one is ever really attainable.

Remember Mr. Keating's whole shtick that success isn't just having a good job or meeting the expectations of other people? Well, that's his story…and he's sticking to it.

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