|“||Don't you ever dispute me in public. Do you understand? After you've finished medical school and you're on your own, then you can do as you damn well please. But until then, you do as I tell you. Is that clear?||„|
|~ Thomas Perry.|
Thomas Perry is the secondary antagonist in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. He is the strict and tyrannical father of Neil Perry who forcefully wanted his only son to becoming a doctor, an occupation which his child doesn't want.
Mr. Perry is an elderly man with short hair and stern facial features. He is almost always wearing a fancy suit or black trench coat.
Mr. Perry is a very cold and dispassionate individual whose idea of succeeding in life was to place his son in a very strict and demanding school. He would always speak to his son in a very formal manner, never asking him about how school is going for him or how his interactions with his peers and teachers are and always demand perfection out of Neil. Most like of the other Welton students his own son is very afraid of him and hid his involvement in the school play because of his father's disapproval (which Thomas is not shy to show) of it.
He is very impatient and is unwilling to listen to his son's opinion or anyone else's except his own. Even when he witnessed the standing ovation his son received and all of the praise his peers and Mr. Keating gave him, it meant nothing to him, and he coldly told Mr. Keating not to talk to his son and thus he blamed Mr. Keating for 'corrupting' his son. It was because of this impatience, unwillingness to change his ways and lack of understanding of who his son truly was and what he really wanted to be that resulted in his son taking his own life. Additionally, after his son committed suicide, instead of owning up to his own mistakes and acknowledging he had a (crucial) role to play in the tragedy that could have been avoided, he instead conveniently chose to accuse Mr. Keating, thinking that it was his inappropriate teaching methods that changed and corrupted Neil and got him dismissed from his job.
Despite all of these things, he does care for his son and made countless sacrifices for him in order to give him the opportunities he himself never had and to succeed in life, and as expected of a father, he broke down upon seeing his son's lifeless body. Since the movie takes place in 1959, parents were generally more strict towards theirs children than nowadays. One can also say that conformity and tradition were more valorised at that time and Thomas was probably in the same line as many parents was.
Mr. Perry was known for the majority of the film as a man who was forcing his son, Neil, to live the life he (Mr. Perry) wanted. With absolutely no regard whatsoever for his son's desires or emotion, Mr. Perry callously browbeat Neil to become a doctor. Neil himself said his father never once asked him what he wanted, how he felt or what his thoughts on anything were. Mr. Perry figured that what he wanted for Neil was best and was all that mattered, therefore he never considered the damage he was inflicting upon.
When Neil auditioned for a play, which was the first thing he had ever done against his dad's wishes, Mr. Perry came down hard (physically) on him and forbid him to do the play. However, Neil did it anyway and got a standing ovation for his performance, making him happier than he had ever been in his life. It was sadly short-lived as Mr. Perry, in retaliation, pulled Neil out of his school and told him by the time they arrived home with his wife waiting, he will be force to be enrolled in military school before attending Harvard.
Neil, in fear that he will forcefully study for the next 10 more years of lifetime like a prisoner, attempted to stand up to his father and demonstrate how acting made him happy. But Mr. Perry continuously shot him down and ignoring his melodramatic worries, making it abundantly clear that Neil had utterly no choice in the direction in which his life would go, realizing that his own father truly cared no one but his dream of turning his son into a doctor, and for that: it meant nothing. Once Neil got the impression that his own happiness meant less to his father, Neil makes a point of no return: he did the only thing that would keep his life from being controlled - shooting himself to death.
When Mr. Perry found Neil's body, he broke down in devastation and held his son's body, crying and shouting in heartbreak and disbelief. This was proof that Mr. Perry loved Neil for all his cold-heartedness facade, but sadly never was able to demonstrate to the poor boy. Still, rather than accepting responsibility for Neil's death which he caused, Mr. Perry (alongside Richard Cameron) assisted Headmaster Nolan to have John Keating fired from Welton and ultimately succeeds get Todd and other boys to reveal that they (including Neil) are members of the Dead Poets Society, even though Mr. Keating was the teacher (and only adult) who had encouraged Neil to embrace his passion of acting.
Mr. Perry's actions had ultimately gotten his son killed yet Mr. Keating served as the perfect excuse for the former to again to save himself any inkling of shame, thus avoiding redemption. However, despite getting Keating fired, his inspiration still lives on with his student and Neil's friend, making Perry lose the battle in the long run.
|“||I don't care if the world comes to an end tomorrow night. You are through with that play. Is that clear? Is that clear? (...) I made a great many sacrifices to get you here, Neil, and you will not let me down.||„|
|~ Thomas Perry, finding out about Neil's acting involvement and forcing him to quit the play.|
|“|| Thomas Perry: We're trying very hard to understand why it is that you insist on defying us. Whatever the reason, we're not gonna let you ruin your life. Tomorrow I'm withdrawing you from Welton and enrolling you in Braighton Military School. You're going to Harvard, and you're gonna be a doctor.|
Neil Perry: But, that's ten more years! Father, that's a *LIFETIME*!
Thomas: Oh, stop it! Don't be so dramatic! You make it sound like a prison term! You don't understand, Neil! You have opportunities that I never even dreamt of, and I am NOT going to let you waste them!
Neil: I've got to tell you what I feel!
Mrs. Perry: We've been so worried about you!
Thomas: *WHAT*? What? Tell me what you feel! What is it? Is it more of this, this *ACTING* business? Because you can forget that. What?
Thomas: Nothing? Well, then, let's go to bed.
|~ Thomas Perry's last straw, before his son's suicide.|
|“|| Thomas Perry: NOOOOOOOO!!! OH NEIL!! OH MY GOD!!! Oh my son...my son, my poor son!|
Mrs. Perry: He's alright, He's alright, He's alright...
Thomas: Stop it, Stop it, STOP IT!!
|~ A heartbroken but unredeemed Thomas Perry, after his son's suicide|
- Despite his overall antagonistic role in the film, some viewers speculate whether Thomas was pressing Neil to become a doctor out of pure selfishness or because he wanted to provide a life for the future generations of his family. Taking into account how old Thomas is, he may have had Neil's age when the Great Depression started and may have fought during World War II, so it's possible that he had to work very hard to provide Neil a decent home and just didn't want everything he had worked for to be ruined by Neil's dream to become an actor.
- This can be possibly backed up by the fact that Neil states that his family isn't as wealthy like most of the other students of Welton Academy and that Thomas points out that he didn't have the same opportunities Neil had.
- However, this does not mean that Mr. Perry is seen in a sympathetic light. If he did, then he should have either never pushed Neil too far to the point that he committed suicide when Thomas forced him into military school (In real-life, military schools are not re-modification programs for troubled youth) or at the very least acknowledge his involvement on Neil's death rather than accusing Mr. Keating.
- Mr. Perry shares some similarities with Gerald Lambeau from Good Will Hunting:
- Both wanted to put the main protagonists in academically successful positions, even though it wasn't what they wanted, and did not consider their emotions or passion.
- Ironically, both movies star Robin Williams with the same role in the protagonists' lives.
- Kurtwood Smith, the actor who played Thomas Perry, saw a family with a father domineering his son very much like his character towards Neil when the premiere of Dead Poets Society was playing. When the movie was over, Smith noticed the father was crying while leaving the theater.