At the end of the movie John Keating is accused of making Neil come up against his father and outing his own dreams ("Carpe diem!") which ultimately leads to him committing suicide.

Was Keating really to blame for all of this?

While he made the students find their own voice and go against the status quo, wasn't Neil already 'fighting' the system at the start of the year when his father told him to quit the yearbook? Wasn't his father as much to blame, because he crushed his dreams so fervently?

4 Answers 4


I think it goes deeper than this. Having watched the film with my summer stock group, we had a very long conversation on this topic.

Keating's job was to make these boys the future men of their society. The men needed to find their own voices. In Neil's case; Neil discovers not merely his dream but also that his personal fulfillment comes from the theatre.

This can run harshly counter in the 50's to a business man who is spending his money to see his son also become a leader. Theatre didn't represent that in the time period on any level.

In my opinion, the use of Puck in Midsummer is a fantastic allegory for this as Puck was a character who walked in several worlds and was master of none of them. Though in his guile he would often influence all of them. There is a wonderful research topic in theatre: "Puck vs. Oberon: Who's in control"

Likewise, Neil walks in many circles of which he is not afforded the right to take control... Most importantly: "His own destiny"

Keating does open Pandora's box. But that is what he's supposed to be doing. Opening the boys to commanding their own futures. Unfortunately, Keating forgets that the boys will not always be permitted to seize their own destinies because their parents may not let go of the plans they have for their children.

Honestly, and it pains me to say, Neil is the one to blame for his own suicide. The act is taken on several levels at several times but it comes down to his father's challenge. His father says, "You will not have Theatre." It is Neil who must now challenge his father and become his own person. This is by no means an easy challenge. It is obvious that his father holds a very powerful place in his heart even if it is through fear and domination.

Neil must choose between the connection he holds to his father and the expectations that his father will place on him and the choice of something that truly fulfills him. And not merely on an experiential level, but on one that gives him spiritual joy as well.

Neil chooses (as is normal for the time) to abandon that joy in himself. In acquiescing to his father at that point he chooses the world he will walk in. Effectively killing his heart and passion, he spiritually commits suicide.

The physical act is merely the clarifications that he does not wish to walk around life as a dead man.

Who draws the ethical gun? Neil is the one told to make the decision and Neil is the one who can not release the limitations placed around him to be free. He could run away and sever all contact with family and be free to pursue theatre. No one puts Neil in the situation and I think all carry some of the blame to not help him with the decision. But inevitably, it is Neil who makes the decisions of which way he will go.


That was the whole point of his side story is that his repressive father forced him into that position. By being too restrictive and essentially dictating his son's life, by basically humiliating him and crushing his dream of being an actor, Neil decided that if he couldn't have his dream, he shouldn't have his life either. This is a bit of a foil to the rest of the boys' reaction to his death as they started to gang on each other, minus a select few, in order to get Keating blamed for the whole incident.


I REALLY like the comment posted by @Andrei Freeman SO, adding on:

I just watched this movie with my mom for the first time tonight and had a few thoughts I want to share if that's alright...

The classic, "permanent solution to a temporary problem," is, in this great film, illustrated so beautifully...especially with the facts that we now know about the frontal lobe development timeline, the maturity to truly see around the next corner, to be able to understand the permanence of permanent, but the total lack of ability to see that there ARE solutions out there yet unknown. Yes his father was, like most of that era, overbearing to the enth degree...and like many married women watching on the frontline of such father-son tumult, she was clearly sympathetic-yet not in a position of equality in parenting and running the household (family and all) to step in an ability to diffuse the situation or get her husband to take a step back. It is clear to me that this is not an evil father without love for his son...rather a father expressing "fatherhood" the only way he knew how - most likely passed down generations in his family. Which is indeed, the wake up call most parents must heed as their teens who are still roughly 5-10 years from full on copacity to merge wills with those of their family, and understanding as parents that our kids are not here to be our underlings - NOT born to assert the will of their parents....instead, hopefully for parents to see their amazing children gain the best of what their parents have to offer, and taking full use of said knowledge, to find what makes their own life, theirs. Then parents should rejoice that they have hopefully well adjusted kids, a beautiful relationship between parent/adult child, as well as mutual respect.

Therefore, I must conclude that as tragic as it is to say (and suicide always is) it IS ultimately Neil who made that fated choice. My heart is with any situation like this in fiction or in life...there are and always will be circumstances that overwhelm people - the message should always be to remember that things will and do get better, but if one has already selected the path off this globe, those options never come to fruition.

We MUST begin to RELEARN these things - like NOT to stigmatize and/or judge those who felt such a level of pain that they weren't able to find another route...rather stay vigilant always to how we can spot those in need before the ultimate deed has forever broken the loved ones in that life. I'm not saying "anything goes" - simply more understanding for why and how someone (in particular this case since its a movie theoretical writing) could end feeling the way that Neil does....in efforts to stem that type of tide.


“Mr. Keating was the cause of the negative events that occur in the film.” Do I agree with that? Of course not. As far as I am concerned, he was just doing his best to help those kids, trying to do his job as well as he could, and putting every effort in encouraging his pupils to think by themselves, something that certainly no other teacher did. Is that bad? No, definitely not. Was he, maybe, too enthusiastic at his endeavour? Maybe, yes. But, this alleged excess (a verdict I don't agree with) should be rather seen as natural and logic to counterweight the excesses in those good golden days: teachers and parents were too strict, too tough and too authoritarian with those kids; and that was no good either.

Personally, I think that having different ways of thinking is great and it makes this world better. Each one of us sees the world from a different perspective and everyone has their own opinion. Sometimes we all agree, sometimes we don’t. What makes us unique and valuable as individual persons are those different thoughts, those new ideas or feelings that grow from ourselves. Mr. Keating was just trying to show that to his class, to help them find their own likes and dislikes, to trust themselves and to see that as richness instead of a kind of sin.

Sometimes we are too afraid of thinking, like Todd, and we just do what people tell us. Sometimes we just need something, a little of inspiration, a little spark, to help us get rid of this overwhelming feeling of guilt and insecurity, and start making ourselves owners of our lives, like Neil did. Sometimes we are Romeos, like Knox, but we need that Julieta for getting up. Like Nuwanda, sometimes we are just crazy from the beginning, and we don’t fear anything for being ourselves. However, sometimes we are like Cameron, and we do what we're told to, without breaking any rule or disobeying. With that kind of teachers, or parents, most kids would adopt Cameron's attitude and I don’t blame they for it. It is the easiest way: you obey, you don't have any problems. Is it always easy to obey though? That would be another question.

We all had, are having, or will have a moment in our lives that will make us take the control of it, impose and talk by ourselves. We won’t need anybody for that. Was “Mr. Keating” ’s role helpful to Neil and to the rest of his roommates for waking up? Yes. But if there had not been any “Mr. Keating” in that school, somewhere they would have ended up finding another person that would have make them arrive to that same point and make them suck out the marrow of life. Life offers us many opportunities to realise that we are actually capable of writing the script of our own lives, it is not an unexpected muse the one which makes the pen write, as it was not Mr Keating the one who pulled the trigger: we're more awake than we think and that others think!, also, we are many who are awake, we just don't see it, we don't trust ourselves and it is certainly much easier or faster or less painful to take that big step forward if someone is there by our side, something is there to remind us of our duty with ourselves, a 'something' or 'someone' that help us feel we're not alone and that we can and deserve it.

Like it or not, Neil is the one to blame for his own suicide. When Neil went to the English teacher for advice, he was told to confront his father, and he didn’t. It was Neil who chose to go behind his dream, like Keating told him, following the wrong road, like Keating told him NOT to do. We can’t blame another person for our mistakes, perhaps Mr Keating shouldn't have pushed those kids to pursue their wishes so intensely and seize the day without analysing all possible consequences, but where would be the freedom then? Because that is all what this is about: about taking decisions, taking risks and foreseeing and assuming consequences. That is all what this is about: freedom. Freedom is not free of pain and it is rarely the easy way, it is simply freedom.

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