What are some of the film techniques used in Dead Poets Society?

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Film techniques are the language of cinema itself. The placement of the camera, the lighting of a scene, the way actors and objects are arranged within a frame—all of these things help tell a story with visuals.

Since the carpe diem scene has already been discussed here, I'll put attention on the film techniques used during the scene where Neil and his father argue about his going to study medicine rather than pursuing his dreams of acting. High camera angles, the body language of the actors, and the composition all contribute to the audience's understanding of the conflict between Neil and his family.

First, notice how at the beginning of the scene all of the characters are not in the same shot. This suggests how all the characters are not unified in opinion: Neil's father is a tyrant, Neil is resisting, and Neil's mother is a bystander, worried about her son but too timid to confront her husband.

The camera angles and positions of the actors also suggest the power struggle between Neil and his father. Neil is in a submissive position, sitting with the camera looking down on him, making him seem powerless. Neil's father is standing and the camera is looking at him straight on, showing his power.

However, as the scene progresses, Neil briefly becomes more assertive. He eventually stands up and looks his father in the eye. We get a shot of Neil, his father, and his mother all in the same shot, showing how the dynamic and separate nature of all the characters is being challenged. Then Neil backs down again, and the camera resumes its high angle position. It zooms away from Neil as well, emphasizing his isolation within the frame as well as the burgeoning despair and loneliness that drives him to kill himself.

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Whatever way a director or cinematography decides to film a scene technically involves film techniques. Dead Poets Society makes use of tracking shots, high angle shots, close ups, and panning. It uses other techniques too, but I chose those because they are all used in the "carpe diem" scene. This scene does a nice job of mixing up all of those techniques in a way that keeps viewer tension up while also highlights the emotions of the characters in the scene. The high angle shot isn't used much in this scene, but it does give the viewer a sense of the space that the actors are in. It's a fairly large area, but with so many boys, the space is tight. The boys are shoulder to shoulder, and Williams is forced to squeeze in and around them. To highlight that proximity, the director includes a lot of tight close up shots of the face of whatever character is speaking. The tracking shots and camera pans happen almost exclusively to Williams as he moves throughout the room in order to more firmly set the seize-the-day concept into his students.

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One technique that is used in Dead Poet's Society to enhance the overall theme of the film would be in the final scene.  The pull back shot that shows many of the students standing on their desk after they have called out, "O Captain, My Captain" to Mr. Keating who is leaving helps to illuminate the impact that the teacher has had on his students.  Seeing the scene in a wide frame from Keating's eyes help to allow the viewer to see what impact he has had on his students from his own point of view.

Another technique to emphasize the theme of the film would be when Todd wants to know what the other students have said in terms of implicating Mr. Keating in Neil's death. The camera follows Todd, knocking on the door of another student and talking through the door.  The close up of Todd knocking and talking through reflects a condition of loneliness that he experiences.  It is a moment where his recognition is our own recognition:  He will have to take action for what he knows is right because no one else will.  This sense of the forlorn is brought out with this scene.

Finally, the use of setting and cinematography can be seen in Mr. Keating's packing up scene.  He stares out the window, alone from the highest of towers. He watches a Latin class reciting their verb tenses outside.  Keating looks out from the tower and the capture of the New England Winter along with the class and instruction that he no longer has helps to create a distinct mood. The melancholy in Mr. Keating's character is brought out in this moment.  What is more sad than a teacher who does not have a class any more?  The combination of the gray, dingy clouds, Mr. Keating alone in a tower, and him looking on what he no longer possesses helps to construct a sad emotinoal reality at this tender moment.

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