Rebelling Against Authority

Max Moliken

20 January, 2017

Rebelling Against Authority: The True Meaning of Carpe Diem

     On August 7, 1974, the crowds of New York gathered before the twin towers to watch the daringness of Philippe Petit. He shifts the long metal pole onto his shoulders and prepares to step out onto the tightrope that spans the vast expanse of open air between the Twin Towers. One can only wonder what crazy thing was going through this man’s mind as he crossed the rope not once, not twice, but an astounding eight times even though that wasn’t his plan. Philippe just seemed to be having fun. While it was certainly a risk to seize the opportunity, Philippe did it out of sheer joy, later inspiring both a documentary(2008s, Man on Wire) and the 2015 movie The Walk. So one must wonder, could seizing our own days be the key to a similar happiness? Could this idea of Carpe Diem be the answer to true happiness?

     As we take a  lesson from Philippe Petit, I wonder if it is possible for one to go through life without, at one point or another, hearing the term: Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem, the Latin term for seize the day, can be a very confusing concept because it is not clear as to exactly what seize the day means. Does it mean, as a certain Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society(DPS)may agree, “to make your life extraordinary”? For Philippe Petit it certainly did, but what about the rest of us. Does it mean to accomplish the little things in life that make us all happy as John Spencer noted in his video, ‘What if the Small Life Actually the Epic Life’? Perhaps they may all be true, although I believe that some may just find it to be a reason to rebel, but what are they rebelling against?

     Before determining the meaning of Carpe Diem, it may be helpful to first determine what it means to be a rebel. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘rebel’ as a noun: 1- A person who resists authority, control, or convention, and as a verb: 1- To resist authority, control or convention. In both of these definitions, the word ‘authority’ is mentioned. Although Carpe Diem is widely revered as a cathartic experience, at its core lies the concept of authority. To learn to reject authority and control oneself.

     In other words, Carpe Diem is widely about an individual finding themselves to change his/her state of mind. In the film, Dead Poets Society, the protagonist(Neil Perry) decides to set out on a quest to find himself. His journey through Carpe Diem was slowed and blockaded by his father; an overbearing seemingly emotionally absent man who wants nothing more than for his son to become a talented doctor. Neil, much like Phillipe Petit, set his mind on something more fulfilling-he applied for a position as the editor of the school newspaper and got the job, nonetheless. When his father caught wind of this, he shot the idea down. When Neil decided he’d give acting a try, He got the main part in a Shakespearean play and again, upon hearing of this, his father was immediately against it. So one must wonder how anyone would be surprised to see Neil Perry dead on the study floor, with a smoking revolver in his cold, lifeless hands.

     While this scene powerfully demonstrates the darker side of Carpe Diem, it does provide other characters with their cathartic experiences. Take Todd Anderson, for example. Neil’s shy and oftentimes guarded roommate. Throughout the film, we see Todd in the background, reserved as always, while his classmates are as boisterous as can be. It isn’t until about halfway through the film that we see even a little bit into his life. It is at this moment, when we learn that his parents are much like Neil’s. He stands on a small bridge holding his birthday gift- a small desktop accessory that he admittedly receives every year. After a short talk with Neil(his most personal moment yet), he throws the gift over the edge. This scene in particular symbolizes Carpe Diem in the sense of finding yourself. Neil’s talk with Todd and this symbolic scene helps Todd along the way. In the aftermath of Neil’s death, We see Todd sprinting out of the school and into the snow. Throughout the entire film, this is the most emotion we have yet seen from Todd. It illustrates perfectly how Carpe Diem allows us to find ourselves.

     While some may argue that change is in no way illustrated by these two characters’ existential journeys, it is in fact there. In the beginning of the film, upon our first time meeting Neil, we see him talking with his friends and smoking a cigarette. He laughs and talks and sounds upbeat. Fast forward about two minutes and his entire attitude changes when his father disallows him from being the editor of the school paper. Shortly after their parley, Neil is upset. He bounces back quickly, and remains so until his next encounter with his father’s dictator-like attitude. Shortly afterwards, he is dead and his journey has been cut short by authority.

     Wise men have before said that rebelling against authority is inevitable. One such quote, written by Thomas Paine states: “He that rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny has a better title to defender of the faith than George III.” This quote illustrates that authority has been rebelled against since long before Carpe Diem became such a largely discussed topic.

     So, how does this all tie together? Does Neil’s death prompt the others to find themselves and stand up to authority? Does his demise bring about change? In short, yes. I can, without a doubt, say  that Neil’s death was what I consider to be the most pivotal moment in the film. The tragic end of his journey to ‘seize the day’ allowed many others to fully express their core nature, thus completing the vicious circle that is Carpe Diem. And, so, as Philippe Petit before us, we follow in his footsteps to seize our own days and make our own lives extraordinary.


Works Cited “Philippe Petit.” A&E Networks Television, 07 Aug. 2015.          Web. 27  Jan.2017.

OurSocialVoice. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.  


“Thomas Paine.” Xplore Inc, 2017. 27 January 2017.