As I’m waiting for Dead Poets Society to buffer on my laptop I’m asking myself “Where do I even begin?” Both my AP World teacher and my mother would want me to begin by citing his wonderful role as the quirky and fun Mork from Ork, who appeared in Happy Days and got his spin-off show on Mork & Mindy. I could also begin through his stand-up or improv work, though unfortunately I’d be at a loss in such areas.
I’ve gotten to the part of the movie where Mr. Keating tells Todd Anderson to close his eyes and spew poetry from his soul. I find myself getting teary eyed. Odd, I think. I’m trying to remember other films or works by Robin Williams that I can remember or adore. Flubber and Jumanji I saw years ago and can only faintly remember. Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin I never saw, the first because no one told me of the movie, the latter because of Disney being dubbed in Spanish. So why in the hell am I getting misty eyed at a man I barely know? In terms of his work, that is.
Aren’t there other people more qualified to write about him? Someone who has seen his comedic performances in the movies I listed above? Someone who saw his more serious side in Good Will Hunting or Insomnia?
Now we’re getting to the scene where Neil Perry shoots himself. I thought in the movie he’d hung himself. When I first heard Williams’ death might have been a suicide, I saw it either as ironic or a dark joke from the part of destiny. And yet, I didn’t cry at that instant of the movie. Were roles of his coming clearer into my mind? I could more easily recall Hook, or Night At The Museum, the first movies I remember introducing me to this versatile, witty, and hilarious actor.
No, but there had to be more to this. A man who was a giant fan of video games and board games, someone who’d won an Oscar and a myriad other awards, someone like that had to have caused a larger impact.
As the movie kept buffering, I roamed on Twitter and Facebook to see what others were saying. On my newsfeed I found pictures, quotations, thank you messages. I found them in English and in Spanish. They came from adults older than myself, peers of mine, and even some whom we can call the young ones. On Twitter, celebrities like Ellen, politicians like Obama, and even astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson had sent their condolences.
Clearly there was something bigger going on, and I suspected he had affected each and every one of us in our own way. And as the movie was ending, I felt tears and audible sobs from my throat. Rewatching the film, I realized how central it had been in my own belief that I could write, that I could stand out if I wanted to, that life is a gift and you have to seize it. And that brought me to Patch Adams, a movie that touches close to home for someone with a chronic illness who has previously kept up good humour but has recently become downtrodden in matters of health.
I was reminded of the scene where Patch reads Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII to his dead girlfriend, because the movie doesn’t end there. And neither does it end in Dead Poet’s with Keating’s sacking.
This was my second time watching Dead Poet’s Society, because the suicide scene had been so heartbreaking I never wanted to revisit it. But rewatching the film, Robin Williams left me with a message we can all appreciate. Life has its pitfalls; it has its downtrodden moments. But we must keep our heads high and persevere. And while he gives us this message, it seems as if he himself wasn’t able to follow it through.
It isn’t a secret that he had a cocaine addiction and a drinking problem. It also was revealed to us that he had been dealing with severe depression. The heartbreaking thing, though, is that we all saw him as the genie, the boy who didn’t grow up, the husband who cared so much for his children, but we never knew about this other side of him. What I’m getting at is that you needn’t go at this alone. Having depression and anxiety myself, I can only begin to imagine the toll six decades could have taken on this sad clown to have taken his own life. But if he is to give us a lesson, it is that: you needn’t go at this alone. Forget Robin Williams’ death, remember Mr. Keating’s carpe diem.
Lastly, I must admit I found it interesting that O Captain, My Captain featured so heavily in this film, and more so now. The poem was written about Abraham Lincoln, who suffered severe bouts of depression throughout his life. And yet, he and Robin Williams shared something else in common: for them, their antidote against such feelings was laughter. Lincoln thrived off his anecdotes and jokes, Williams off bringing us performances that would make us cry of laughter and joy. And while this was an unfortunate end for him, let us remember his versatility as an actor, how each performance touched us all, and that even the happiest of fellows have to battle inner demons… and that’s ok.
So to our Captain, to Mork, to Patch, to Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, to Alan Parrish, to Teddy Roosevelt, to the Genie, I say thank you. From all of us.
“My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”
Rinaldi, Eva. “Robin Williams.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/aQ6Qsi>.