23 September 2012


The weather during these early Fall nights has turned to chilly. I stack the blankets at the end of the bed so that I can pull them over the comforter when I am awakened by the cold in the early, early morning hours. I fit the premium flannel sheets onto the mattress, and I consider whether to purchase a bathrobe. Actually, I don’t really mind the change of season: I enjoy the opportunity to be snug like a bug in the rug (one doesn’t often get to use that phrase so appropriately!) when the temperature drops to what can only be referred to as cold.
So, for the next six to eight months, when I leave the comfort of the warmth under which I burrow for the nightly trip to the bathroom, I would normally step onto icy wood floors with my bare feet. But anticipating such eventuality, I purchased slippers to roam throughout the house and to keep by the bedside.
And so there is a scene in the film Dead Poet’s Society that I’ve now come to see from a different perspective. It is the scene when Neil Perry’s father, played by Kurtwood Smith, sets his slippers by the side of his bed and the camera focuses on his placing of the slippers exactly parallel and facing outward. Smith is portrayed in the film as the epitome of oppressiveness, the enemy of freedom, youth, art and obsessively exact (and exacting). Mr. Perry is the adversary to the Dead Poet’s Society, and represents everything for which the film means to advocate: truth and beauty! The shot of his meticulous slipper placement characterizes him as dogmatic, anally retentive, and inflexible. Indeed, it will be the film’s portrait of his autocratic rule of the household to which will be attributed his son’s suicide. Neil Perry has been portrayed in the film as a young, talented and vulnerable lad whom the audience has been led to adore.
For years I resisted any identification with Mr. Perry, Kurtwood Smith’s role in Dead Poet’s Society. For years I viewed the careful alignment of his slippers with contempt. But now, in the middle of the night, as I step out of bed and search for my slippers, I think to myself, “How else should slippers be placed beside the bedside other than carefully aligned and facing toward the door (or bathroom) for the ease of slipping them on? How absurd it would be to place the slippers by the bed in such a way that one couldn’t even find them, much less put them on with any sense of ease or purpose.” I think I have come around to the opinion that the shot in the film of Mr. Perry carefully placing his slippers by the bed for their anticipated use exploited the cliché of order as a cheap means of ideological characterization, but that the intent was essentially not true to any real sense of life.
Nonetheless, when I get into bed each night now I align my slippers and for a moment worry that I have become Mr. Perry. But when I step out of bed on my way to the bathroom and slip them effortlessly on my feet, I feel only warmth and ease and little guilt.


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