The tragic suicide mistake of a nice film

Anniversaries roll round – 75 years since Bretton Woods, 50 years since Apollo 11 and, a film critic reminds his readers, 30 years since Peter Weir’s Lifeless Poets Society.

No, the film isn’t in the identical class as the opposite two, nevertheless it was a really nice film, necessary to many younger folks on the time.

Much less remarked upon is that it was tragically flawed.

It is a column I ready earlier, a lot earlier – practically 4 years in the past, a part of it 5 years in the past. Anniversaries present the excuse to try this.

What I wrote in November 2015 was that the demise of the beloved and well-known isn’t over rapidly. It lingers and is reprised, generally warmly, fantastically, generally painfully.

The reprisal in query was Robin Williams’ demise 15 months earlier than, introduced up afresh by his widow in a tv interview explaining his psychological deterioration.

The way and doable influence of Williams’ demise triggered me to file a long-held criticism in regards to the severe flaw in Lifeless Poets Society.

In some ways it was an inspirational movie, artwork, however for my part it failed due to the omission of a remaining impassioned speech by Robin Williams’ character on how suicide betrayed the important message of “seizing the day”.

I wrote that Neil’s demise was allowed to lie there as an unanswered dramatic assertion, a handy theatrical dénouement.

It aggravated me on the time and annoys me nonetheless, because it left a movie with huge youth attraction and far pleasure apparently accepting suicide as an enormous assertion, as a understandable method out of problem.

In Neil’s case, it may very well be construed as one thing like revenge on controlling mother and father, mother and father who nonetheless didn’t subsequently perceive their son.

suicide as portrayed in Dead Poets Society
The forged of Lifeless Poets Society from 1989. Photograph: Getty

A chance was missed to rail in opposition to the appalling plague that youth suicide has turn into.

For all our sorrow for the bothered particular person and, hopefully, our take care of the depressed, the dreadful ending of a valuable, beloved, younger life can’t be handled as something lower than essentially the most misguided and whole mistake, as horrific waste, as completely pointless and ignoble.

Lifeless Poets Society didn’t try this.

The worry of copycat deaths that stalks mother and father and faculties after a suicide might have been assuaged just a bit by the Williams speech that wasn’t there. It angered me.

Response was, shall we embrace, blended. Some folks had been angered, some appreciated the ideas. So it goes.

Months later, I obtained an e-mail that made the detrimental feedback matter not. It was very private from a person nearer to the ache of youth suicide than I’ve been.

I requested him for permission to publish his e-mail. He agreed on the situation of being allowed to rewrite the unique, deleting some feedback and private info as he needed to stay nameless. He redrafted the e-mail a few instances. Right here’s the ultimate model:


I wish to say thanks, thanks, thanks for writing the Lifeless Poets Society piece in August. I simply ran into it whereas doing analysis on suicide prevention.

I had the identical response to the movie years in the past. Why?

Roughly two weeks after watching Lifeless Poets Society, my son, a real-life poet, ended his life in virtually the similar method.  We had no thought he was depressed.

Why would the movie painting suicide as an affordable, virtually noble resolution to Neil’s perceived drawback? Why would it not not, as you word, denounce it in some method? All that’s proven after the suicide is that everybody is gloomy and indignant. I do know the sensation and I didn’t even must act it out.

Why not at the very least embody an academic message of hope inside or after the movie that claims one thing like, “Suicide is just not the reply, in case you are depressed or contemplating suicide name this quantity or discuss with a counsellor?” We all know from some writings we found after his demise that my son had ideas of suicide for a month or extra previous to watching this movie however I can’t assist imagine that seeing it had a huge effect on him. Inspirational maybe.

I don’t blame Robin Williams in any respect. Not for his function as an actor on this movie or for being a sufferer of suicide. The sickness that’s despair can strike any of us no matter our career, place in society or movie star. It doesn’t discriminate.

Nevertheless, I do share your grudge in regards to the movie. Had it included a accountable message, powerfully delivered by Williams as you recommend, it might have even impressed my son to hunt assist. Relatively, it might have served to substantiate his suicidal ideations and extinguish yet one more ember of hope.

Thanks for shedding gentle on the pivotal function that the media and leisure business play on this epidemic of youth suicide.

A case of artwork not imitating, however taking part in, a job in ending life.

I printed his e-mail on my web site. Why? Why prolong the movie star demise media focus?

That reprisal of Williams’ suicide story got here shortly after one thing else: The invention that an outdated pal, somebody I considered one of many strongest folks I do know, somebody I’d need beside me within the trenches if it ever got here to that, had been suicidal for a lot of his youth.

Maybe it’s testimony to his power that he each day fought anxiousness and no one knew. I don’t assume I shock simply, nevertheless it shocked me to seek out that out – underlining how little we ever know of individuals.

I requested my pal in regards to the Williams piece and the daddy’s message and he accepted of each. He was glad of them. He informed me all that stopped him turning into one other statistic was worry of the potential of hellfire from the remnants of faith he then had and never desirous to embarrass his household.

There are occasions when nothing may be mentioned, when struggling is palpable and when any phrases of consolation can be recognized to be lies as a result of there isn’t a consolation for the demise of a kid. By no means.

I’ve not felt such mute, mutual sorrow, such silence, as when standing amongst a number of hundred folks outdoors a full faculty chapel, whereas a younger man’s mother and father had been led out after prayers on the Monday after the Saturday he had died, nonetheless days earlier than his funeral.

The funeral would rejoice his valuable life however the aching recent devastation of his loss was past expression, placing us dumb, as each dad or mum bled for his bleeding mother and father.

The terrible silence that has stayed with me, the absence of sound in such a crowd on a summer time’s night beneath crimson bougainvillea tumbling over the colonnades.

There are pointers for reporting on suicide, what ought to and shouldn’t be written.

However that father’s e-mail and different suggestions means that, whereas observing these pointers, we shouldn’t pussyfoot round about it.

The depressed and anxious must be supported, victims’ households and buddies held shut, however suicide is to be raged in opposition to, in contrast to its Lifeless Poets Society remedy.

In case you are experiencing problem or want help, assist is out there:

Lifeline is a confidential phone disaster help service out there 24/7: 13 11 14

MensLine: 1300 78 99 78

Youngsters Helpline: 1800 55 1800 

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