by Marion Givhan
Monday night brought an unusually large crowd of people to the Sewanee Union Theatre. On the way in, a woman smiled, explained the purpose of the night, and gave everyone a sticker that read “I [heart] St. Jude.” With free admission, some people walked straight into the theater to find seats, while others bought Skittles and popcorn; the money went toward St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. After a member of the Sewanee chapter of Up ‘til Dawn offered a brief introduction, the lights flickered off, and everyone settled in for a theater experience of Dead Poets Society. The Cinema Guild and Up ‘til Dawn teamed up for the showing of Peter Weir’s 1989 movie inspired by Sewanee alumnus Sam Pickering and Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. For those who have yet to see it, the movie revolves around a group of boys and their experiences at a prestigious, rigidly traditional boarding school when a new English teacher is introduced, Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams in a simultaneously dramatic and comical, inspiration performance. The theater laughed whenever he whistled onscreen, a sure sign of mischief in the film.
Both people who cherished the movie and those who had never seen it came together to enjoy the experience of seeing the movie in theatres. It struck chords in all either way. “Seeing it in the theatre was intimate,” said Catherine Campbell (C’18). “You could see how the film affected people’s emotions in different ways.” Cody Bartz (C’18) agreed, “There were so many powerful scenes that touched you and created real empathy for the characters.”
The showing of Dead Poets also acted as a memorial for Robin Williams, who committed suicide on August 11. Multiple people described their reactions to the news as shock. “I hated that we lost someone like him, who was hilarious and played a major role in our generation,” said Christina Rutland (C’17). Campbell thought that it was a good memorial, but maybe occurred too soon. “Amazing movie, great actor,” she said. “But people who truly respected him might not have had a great experience because all they could think about was his suicide.” She shook her head. “Too soon.”
Tears were shed during the last scenes. People had warned their friends to bring tissues, a smart move considering the amount of sniffing and shaky breaths. The intimacy of the theatre – the darkness and the brightness of the screen as a younger Robin Williams smiled down on the audience and up at his students – evoked emotion in all.