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Authority Against Individualism: Dead Poets Society and the Rabbits

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The controlling and oppressive nature of authority can instigate acts of rebellion from the individual, creating underlying tension and generating an unstable and problematic relationship. Peter Weir explores notions unconformity through Dead Poets Society by depicting how subtle acts of rebellion can create conflict, resulting in detrimental effects on the individual. Furthermore, John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits expresses how the overbearing and powerful authority coerces the individual to adhere to the contradictory beliefs of the authority.

The strictly hierarchical nature of the authority results in the individual becoming frustrated as a consequence of unreasonable pressure to conform to unjust societal values, and hence increasing the contingency for rebellious, potentially harmful activities, in turn creating conflict. Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society explores the unstable relationship between the two entities through his depiction of a highly traditional and conservative authority that exerts its power in order to bully the individual to supress creativity, however leading to subtle acts of rebellion. The unsteady relationship is introduced through the mise-en-scène of the incredibly uniform and symmetrical dorm room coupled with the boys chanting, ‘Travesty, horror, decadence, excrement,’ reflecting subtle ways in which the individual deviates from conventional values in order to express limited originality. Similarly, the authority attempts to supress philosophies of individuality and creativity, creating a monotonous and oppressive environment where individuals are often required to express ingenuity through unconventional methods.

This theme is captured through the mid shot of Mr McAllister as he tediously states, ‘Agricola, agricolae, agricolas…’ as contrasted to the unorthodox teaching Mr Keating, who encourages notions of ‘Carpe Diem’ and insists students refer to him as ‘O Captain, My Captain’, a metaphor for his nonconforming and individualistic nature, acknowledging how originality can emerge but due to exceeding the power compels them abide the authority. Furthermore, deviating from the expectations of the institution and developing nonconformist ideologies, culminates in tension arising and enables conflict to become enlaced throughout the relationship. This is evident through the jump cut shots of the close up of Charlie’s face as he is being paddled (and the mid shots of Mr Nolan highlighting the pain that the individual may undergo when caught deviating from conservative means through self-expression) and reinforces the importance how subtle acts of rebellion may go unnoticed if not escalated to a degree where it is blatantly obvious to the authority. Hence, the oppressive authoritarian body manipulates the individual to enforce superficial values, damaging their relationship and potentially causing long-term tension.

Moreover, the submissive and controlling temperament of the authoritarian entity incites the provocation of incessant communal values, creating widespread conflict, with the authority’s reaction disproportional to the capabilities of the individual. John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits expresses this unsteady relationship of an overbearing authority that force the simple minded and innocent individual to acquiesce to decisions. Tan’s use of the juxtaposition of a black ship to the colourful and unique background establishes the naïve and innocent views of the individuals, who emphasise originality that contradicts the structural and uniform values of the authority. This is similarly convey through the use of metaphor portraying all the livestock with the same markings and cuttings symbolising the unjustified pressure to conform and become institutionalised, and suggests how the authority views the individual as an expendable resource. Evoking a sense of uniformity and structure the brown hue of the militaristic authority coupled with the recurring motif of ‘might = right’ illustrates how the ingenuity and creativity of the individual will be extinguished due to the authority’s response disproportionate to the respective powers of the individual.

However, any divergent thinking to the structured and systematic values will consequently result in conflict being embedded into the relationship. The hierarchical nature of the authority is emphasised through Marsden’s use of hyperbole describing how there were, ‘millions and millions,’ of rabbits coupled with the use of a black and white colour with a monarch reigning capturing the how the wider powers will refuse any opportunity of self-expression to ensure individuals don’t deviates from traditional values. Although, an individual’s decision to resist indoctrination of authoritative institution’s value can subsequently disrupt their relationship. This is acknowledged through the polluted dystopian environment symbolising how the hostility between the authority and the individual manifests in corrosive effects, disturbing the status quo and weakening the collective unity within the community. Thus, Marsden reveals an inextricable link between the instability of the relationship and the authority’s persistent pressure to become indoctrinated as he indicates restricted opportunities of self-expression will interrupt the steady bond with the individual.

Ultimately, the individual’s ability to resist authority’s constraints, and to express personal values, inevitably generates a repressive and domineering environment, resulting in conflict becoming entrenched throughout. Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society and John Marsden’s The Rabbits reinforce this notion through their representation of the conflict that emanates when the individual condemns the values of stale institutions and explores ingenuity, with a response disproportionate to the capable powers of the individual.

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Authority Against Individualism: Dead Poets Society and The Rabbits. (2018, May 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from
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