Tribute Review: Robin Williams

On Monday, 11th of August we lost one of Hollywood’s most remarkable and charismatic men, and it was such a shock that I still don’t think it has quite set in yet…

Now I don’t care what the News articles say about Robin Williams now, I don’t want cameras and reporters prying into his family after such an overwhelming tragedy. I would rather watch his films and remember how great and magnetic an actor he really was.
The problem here only is: there are so many to chose from!

Sure, Williams has been in many a bad film… but who hasn’t? What’s startling is the number of truly inspiring and excellent films are in his filmography:
Aladdin, Jumanji, Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, FernGully: The Last Rainforest (shut up, it is a personal favourite of mine!) he even played the live action Popeye, and that is just his family and kids movies!

My all time favourite “Vietnam war film” is not Apocalypse Now, or Full Metal Jacket, or Platoon, rather it is Robin Williams’ Good Morning Vietnam. I’ve only seen it once, and I may watch it again soon, but I remember it vividly and it was at the top of my list that year.
Then there is the murder thriller Insomnia, one of Christopher Nolan’s first films, where Williams extends his acting talents, Kenneth Branagh’s definitive Hamlet from 1996 and of course Good Will Hunting!

The list is endless for a talent that was endless, and I couldn’t keep a tribute post below four films! So instead I chose to watch one of the classic Robin Williams films that I had not seen before.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams, you will be missed by millions, but your legacy will endure for ages!

Dead Poets Society

A simple narrative story but watched for the excellent performances throughout, the film is inspiring and ageless.

Following seven school boys after they register into a new prep school in America, they find the unforgiving study, old and passionless teachers and strict principles stifling. But when they meet the new English teacher, John Keating, a graduate of the very same school, they find him to be an unorthodox free-thinker who wants them to appreciate life rather than be subdued by the school’s systematic regime.

I very much enjoyed watching this as I understood some of the message our English teacher Keating was trying to get across to the boys. His first scene involves the classroom of boys to tear the entire introduction of their school textbooks out, an introduction proclaiming the rationalization of good and bad poetry; fundamentally stifling creativity within the parameters of closed-minded thinking. This scene very much colours the entire story to come, and as someone who has studied social conformity and the systems depleting creativity in individuals, I related to Keating’s teachings!

The film does centre around the boys from the class and their unity, Todd Anderson (played by a very young Ethan Hawke!) an introverted boy who Keating tries to inspire to speak out. Neil Perry, the boy who’s father demands he become a doctor but his interests lie elsewhere, his father played by the relentless, intimidating Kurtwood Smith.
The film’s best moments are with Keating’s classes, and within Robin Williams’ energy and conviction in portraying such personal belief. Sure, there is a scene were Williams gets to do his famous range of pop culture impersonations, but when the character of Keating meets with intense, philosophical debate, it is delivered with such simplistic honesty that you would have a heart of stone to not be moved by it all.

Of course I did find some of the film a little distracting, at least by today’s standards and through the lense of Cinema Cocoa’s growing frame of reference! For a start, Todd’s character is quite obviously an audience surrogate; he does nothing and contributes little and is even quoted as being there to “just listen”. This is irksome at first, but upon further study Todd may be a surrogate but he also embodies the audience’s own trepidation, making for one of the most startling and incredible moments the film has to offer between Todd and Keating…

The story is quite predictable, though events that lead us along are sometimes surprising. With a distinctly unorthodox teacher as Keating in such a strict, brutishly traditional school you can’t really not see where things are going to go! But you should watch this film not for the plot or the narrative structure but for the personalities and the heart lying underneath it.

But, these are minor problems as the film does one thing but does it incredibly well! It teaches something that should be taught to all; that self belief is important and that creativity, art and culture should not be disregarded because it isn’t as financially stable as other careers. The film expresses a lot about breaking out of society conformity, making its story still very relevant today.

Watch it with an open mind, and appreciate that while some elements feel forced or even misguided, you should embrace the ideals that it teaches.

Additional Marshmallows: Despite Williams’ more familiar pop cultural roles over the years, I don’t think I could have picked a better film to watch in his honour.

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