Transcendentalism in Movies

Christopher Macon

Perhaps one of the most meaningful maxims Emerson wrote would have to be "Insist on yourself, never imitate." This statement captures the total essence of transcendentalism; deny the will and aspirations of others, and follow your own heart.

The movie Dead Poets Society begins by introducing the viewers to Todd Anderson, a very subdued and quiet young man. Todd has the average inferiority complex. He is a very bright young man with exceptional abilities. Todd is unwilling to speak his mind for fear of non-acceptance. Charles Dalton is a seemingly average student with a rebellious attitude. He has already realized that the students are being "brainwashed" into living a preordained life. Neil Perry is another young man who realizes that his life is being planned out in front of him. He feels that he has no voice in his life. Their English professor, Mr. Keating, radically changes the lives of all of these students. Mr. Keating encourages Todd to speak up and voice his opinions. He makes Todd realize that the world will accept him because his thoughts and feelings are so deep and heartfelt. Charles Dalton receives just the spark he needs for action from Mr. Keating. He reforms a group called the Dead Poets Society. Nothing really happens at the meetings other than the reading of poetry for inspiration in life. Neil, perhaps the most perplexing character in the movie, discovers his dream in life is to be an actor. His father, for a reason none other than love, strongly opposes this career move. He feels that acting is not financially rewarding enough for his son to survive. He wants Neil to be doctor. In an emotionally charged scene, Neil finds that he doesn't want to cope with a life that doesn't involve acting, and he takes his own life.

In the movie Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams plays a psychiatrist giving therapy to a character played by Matt Damon. Damon's character, Will, is a math genius who has severe social problems stemming from a traumatic childhood. Will knows his gift, but is afraid to use it. He has finally found a peaceful life with his friends. He has a steady job, and life isn't great, but it is livable. Will is afraid of risking security and chancing failure. Will's friend, played by real life friend Ben Affleck, helps him choose between risking his security and stepping out of his comfort zone and living a life where he can barely get by. Will realizes that the benefits outweigh the negatives, and chooses to take a job at a huge accounting firm.

In the movie Patch Adams, Robin Williams plays a doctor with a keen perception of humanity. He focuses on the plight of people who can't afford medical care. Throughout medical school and all of his private practice, patch is ridiculed and mistreated for his beliefs and his unorthodox means of treatment. Even through all this turmoil, Patch never succumbs to the wishes of others. He is always himself. Individuality is quite possibly the most important thing to him aside from the well-being of his patients.

All of the illustrated characters had a secure sense of self once they realized that their opinions were the only ones that counted. They discovered the true and absolute freedom that individuality brings.