Dead Poets Society
I feel like this movie is quintessential dark academia from the atmosphere to the inevitable tragedy. Robin Williams plays the captivating John Keating who inspires and challenges the minds of an all-boys prep school through the art of literature and poetry. Keating’s students, facing pressures from school and parents, find comfort in his unorthodox teaching methods and the club they soon revive, The Dead Poets Society. Two contrasting worlds, romanticism and structure, collide as these young men search for meaning and purpose in an unrelenting reality. This is truly a story about life changing teachers and how their lessons stay with you even after you part ways. There’s a reason why this film is on so many people’s watch lists; it retains relevancy thirty years later. For those who can’t get enough, the source material for the movie is the novel Dead Poets Society by N.H. Kleinbaum. And make sure you have your box of tissues at the ready because by the end you’ll be tearing up at these absolutely gripping performances.
This film follows J.R.R. Tolkien as he and his friends find insight on love, friendship, and the arts in the midst of the outbreak of WWI. These experiences in the English academic setting and war led to the later literary pursuits of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society, a group created by Tolkien and three fellow students. For anyone who loves tweed and grand ideas, this film really puts you in the headspace of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The slightly chaotic writing scenes that are common in these types of movies might even motivate you in your own studies as the semester inches towards finals.
Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams stars in another staple film as a therapist and mentor to the brilliant and young Will Hunting with enormous mathematical potential played by Matt Damon. I just love how Will is able to hold his own in a multitude of intellectual conversations, mathematical or otherwise (*especially* the Harvard bar scene). This story really focuses on balancing academic and romantic pursuits while working through past wounds.There are quite a few tender moments while still leaving the viewer with a rather warm ending.
Kill Your Darlings
This fast paced, noir type film explores the effects of poetry and sexuality on the young Allen Ginsberg as he attended Columbia University in the 1940s. Along with William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and the enigmatic Lucien Carr, Ginsberg begins to find his place as a poet and friend. This story follows some of the greatest writers before the the beat generation occurred tinged with heartbreak and murder. As it’s based on a true story, the whole tale is quite fascinating and well done in this ivy league atmosphere. It’ll keep you thinking even after the credits roll.
Mona Lisa Smiles
This movie leans more on the side of light academia but the pressures and sheer greatness of the story gives it a pass for this list. The movie follows a free spirited art professor as she navigates the extremely traditional Wellesley College in the autumn of 1953. It showcases the constraints that many women felt at that time to make being a wife and mother their top priority. These ideals are challenged along with the notion that every woman is the same. While it’s encouraged through the actions of Professor Katherine Watson that a woman’s role in society has to be a certain way, she is taught by a student that pushing conceptions on those same women can be equally as confining.
While these films that have a “dark academia” aesthetic are certainly entertaining, they lack representation of people of color a lot of the time. As marginalized groups shouldn’t be stuck in one genre of film or literature, I sincerely hope that the industry makes some serious changes for more inclusivity and accurate representation. Historical dramas that revisit the trauma people of color have and still do face aren’t the only pieces that should be made.