MONA LISA SMILE (2003) & DEAD POET’S SOCIETY (1989)
People who have watched these 2 wonderful movies will agree to me if i say that both these movies, stories of which is set up at reputed schools, are like 2 beautiful stones with similar appearances, yet with different characteristics. When i watched Mona Lisa Smile (2003), i was able to connect a lot of it with the Robin Williams starrer , Dead Poet’s Society(1989), and was amazed at the contrasting features the movies had which made them overcome the similarities and stand tall as 2 unique pillars in world Cinema.
The story revolves around a teacher ( Keatings / Katherine) and a group students. The biggest positive these movies share is the wonderful characterisation they have. The characters of the students ( 5 boys in DPS and the 5 girls in MLS), in both the movie strike a resemblance, with their activities as the movie steers forward. Here are some of the similarities.
Neil Perry ( DPS) and Betty Warren ( MLS) are like puppets to their parents. They had to follow the instructions to fulfill their parent’s wishes/dreams. In Betty’s case, towards the end of the movie, she voices out against her mother and files for a divorce with her husband and hence the character trail seems to end quite happily. But with Neil, even though he does voice out against his father, nothing seems to work his away towards breaking his shackles and the character ends up in a tragedy.
Knox Overstreet and Connie Baker are the romantics of the 2 movies. Both their Love Stories seems to travel almost the same way, except for the fact that, in Connie’s case the director ends it up with a direct happy ending , while in Knox’s case the story hints out at a positive ending but ends up abruptly.
The characters of Charlie Dalton and Giselle Levy are like that of a spoilt brat. Their naughty, grey characteristics travel right till the end of the story.
The Whole story of both these movies is about a teacher who goes about in his / her own way of teaching style, even if sometimes it is against the standards of the institutions and about how these characters affect the lives of a group of students. All through our lives, we would have seen characters who are so unique in their way of doing things amidst a world that runs stereotypically. These people become underdogs and they are not usually celebrated, but something about them inspires us. Either it is the effect of our jealousy about their unique characteristic or about their courage to go up against the stereotypical notions posed by the institutional doom above their heads or it is the charisma and confidence they have in their way of doing things. In these movies, John Keatings and Katherine Watson are those characters, who are fortunately celebrated towards the end by their students. John Keatings, an English professor wants to teach the true essence of poetry. He wants his students to understand that poetry is something beyond what they know it as. He tries to “suck the marrow out” of their views about Poetry. He goes on instructing them to rip off a page about a graphical theory on poetry from the book as he feels that such theories are too stupid that it restricts people to enjoy the true essence of poetry. Katherine in MLS, wants her students to understand the true essence of Art and understand the Art of Life.
The Scenes depicting Keatings explaining “Carpe Diem : Seize the day” to his students and Katherine asking them to observe a modern piece of Art shows how unique their teaching styles was and how much they wanted to impart about the subject, not restricting to the Syllabus in hand.
Both Keating and Katherine have affected the lives of their students so much.
Keating helps Todd come out of his Shell and advices Neil to follow up with his dream of becoming an actor. Katherine advices Joan to join up Yale university and pursue Law and states that marriage is not an end to anything.
In the above cases though the subject matter differs, the nature of their activities seems to match.
Both the movies have imageries which seems to have a link with their titles too. The Mona Lisa’s picture , the scene between the Betty and her mom, the scene where they’re discussing about the Mona Lisa Smile shows us how much the imagery of Mona Lisa fits inside the theme and story line of MLS. The imagery in DPS is the 1st page of a book gifted by Keatings to Neil. It has verses about sucking the marrow out of life, which is to be recited at the start of every Dead Poet’s Society Meetings.
Another thing to notice, During the send off scene at the end, it was Todd who starts off the send off gesture by standing on top of his bench and spell out the phrase, ” O captain , my captain”. In MLS, it was Betty Warren, who seems to lead up in the send off gesture, another important character who seems to be affected so much by the teacher.
The screenplay and narration of the movies are quite similar too
Even through such similarities both these movies seems to have quite contrasting elements which I leave it up to you to ponder over. If any of you haven’t seen both these movies, let me give a suggestion. After you finish watching the movies, ponder over how much it would have taken to Cast these actors to these characters. The Casting in these movies , according to me, is like a benchmark. Wonderful actors playing extremely great characters in 2 beautiful stories