Section: Arts

Essential fall movies: “Dead Poets Society,” “Little Women”

When walking down Middle Path, the Kenyon student body is increasingly greeted with red leaves hitting the ground at their feet. As the College celebrates time-honored autumnal traditions such as the Community Feast, many people are indulging in re-watches of their favorite fall-themed media. To tide us over while waiting for Kenyon’s annual Halloween Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast production, screenings of seasonally themed movies and shows are popping up in dorm rooms across campus.  At a place colloquially known as “the writer’s college,” every Kenyon student should add “Dead Poets Society” and “Little Women” to their autumn watchlist. 

“Dead Poets Society,” Peter Weir’s 1989 film starring Robin Williams as an unconventional English teacher at an all-boys boarding school, is widely considered to be the gold standard of back-to-school media. The idyllic, natural setting paired with the quaintness of the brick buildings feels reminiscent of Kenyon — location scouts even visited the College in 1988 to consider whether its campus should be used during filming. 

Focusing on transcendentalist poetry rather than a more universal school experience is an unconventional choice, but the script handles the subject surprisingly well. The viewer doesn’t feel as if they’re being spoon-fed lines of Whitman and Thoreau — rather, they are swept up in the literary fervor that grips the boys in the film, invited to join them as they “suck the marrow out of life.” When Neil, the leader of the group, is cast as Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his passion for the performance is infectious. Audiences feel similar excitement when another member of the group, Charlie, embraces the beatnik aesthetic and insists upon being called “Nuwanda.” In spite of the film’s sad conclusion, fans dutifully return to it each year. “Dead Poets Society” is at its core an invigorating reminder to seize the day and make the most of youth while you can, which can be easy to forget in the face of mounting assignments and tests. 

A newer but no less beloved fall favorite is Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Kenyon being the literary powerhouse that it is, many students grew up with the story and have fond memories of its most iconic scenes. This was a challenge for Gerwig in her efforts to honor the original novel in the film. Set during the American Civil War and in the years following, Little Women tells the story of the four March sisters as they navigate their adolescence and early adulthood. The cast features household names like Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Timothée Chalamet as Laurie and Laura Dern as Marmee. 

The familiar faces of the actors complement the homey feel of the story, inviting the viewer into the March house and giving them a seat by the fire. Though occasionally historically inaccurate, the brightly colored costumes and snug interiors exude the kind of warmth that one associates with autumn, making it a perfect addition to a dorm room movie night. Gerwig’s “Little Women” also does not shy away from the political aspects of Alcott’s original text, which was known for having feminist undertones. Supported by Ronan and Watson’s incredibly strong performances, Gerwig was able to go into some detail about the differing life choices made by the two sisters, humanizing their actions along the way.

Living in our own personal film set is not without troubles, but like the fictional settings of “Dead Poets Society” and “Little Women,” Kenyon’s many charms outweigh its challenges. Despite the stresses that the season poses, Kenyon students have the benefit of partaking in the idiosyncrasies that serve to turn a small Ohio town into a home for students from across the country and world. And when the idyllic autumnal scenery just isn’t enough to assuage the anxieties of college life, well, who’s to stop us from brushing up on the songs from “Rocky Horror”? 

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