He is one of the co-founders of the Dead Poets Society group and a popular, idealistic student of Welton Academy, whose life-dream is to become an Actor. However, his domineering and tyrannical father; Thomas Perry, strictly forces him to take his life seriously into the medical field in order to become a doctor, an occupation which Neil himself doesn't want him to be.
As one of John Keating’s most loyal disciples, His connection with Keating helps him pursue his own dream of becoming an actor, which unfortunately led to his downfall in committing suicide after his father cost him the very happiness that Neil so wanted to achieve.
He is portrayed by Robert Sean Leonard, who ironically played Dr. James Wilson in the American television medical drama House.
Neil first appears in the annual ceremonial tradition of Welton Academy as he reaches his last senior years along with the introduction of the English teacher, Mr. John Keating, as well as becoming the fellow roommate of Todd Anderson.
Originally participated in several extracurricular activities like the Assistant Editor, he was force to stopped doing so by his father Thomas, who was notified by Headmaster Nolan for his son's activities and thus reprimanded Neil that he should obey his father's orders while only focus on studying for Medical school. Though he did added to his son that after he is finishing college, he can do freely on his own as he wanted.
It wasn't until the arrival of Mr. Keating's unorthodox teaching methods that made Neil slowly rebel his conformity, even to that point that he along with his classmates followed Mr. Keating by ripping every last pages of J. Evans Pritchard's "ridiculous" essays.
Neil himself was responsible for starting the Dead Poets Society group when he discovered the Senior Annual yearbook from the library that depicts Mr. Keating's background, and when the DPS members ask Keating about it by which he explains everything to know about the DPS, Neil decided to start the DPS group once again, with Charlie "Nuwanda" Dalton being the first to immediately join the fray (much to the annoyance of the soon to be traitor Richard Cameron, who also agrees on Dalton's behalf), along with many others.
Later, Neil's life-dream plays an important critical role in the film that would later serve as a defiance on not only against the wishes of his father's, but also the consequences that would later affect Welton Academy's reputation, in which Neil got the role of Puck in the Henley Hall school play of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This in turn cause Mr. Perry to arrive in the school unannounced, not having a word of greetings, and despite getting all good grades in Neil's class, demanded his son to be force into quitting the play, which Neil succumbs to the pressure that he will.
Seeking an alternative in order to get his father into understand him, Neil rushes into Mr. Keating, telling him of his situation, as well as explaining the fact that he and his family aren't a rich family like Dalton's. Keating persuades Neil that he alone should be the one to encourage himself and rebel against his father of how he feels and how he really was by simply talking to him, which cause Neil to feel trapped in making a difficult decision. In response: Neil lied to Keating the next day that he was allowed to participate in the play, while his father is in Chicago, unaware to Keating that in reality: Mr. Perry is still in Vermont. Neil manages to participate in the play on time as the character Puck, and he begins to received a great acting performance, the audiences within the standing ovation were well received and his peers and Mr. Keating gave him a wonderful praise.
But sadly, it was short-lived as Neil witness his father looking stern and angry during and after the play, realizing that he has defied Mr. Perry for the last time and in retaliation, his father forces Neil to be sent home while he threatens Mr. Keating to stay away from his son. By the time they arrived home with Neil's mother waiting for them, Neil was horrified to learn that he will be force to be enrolled in Military School as the final straw that his father would ever subdue on his own son. Afraid that he would live the next 10 more years of educational lifetime in what was to be called a prison term, Neil attempted to stand and encouraging himself of how Acting made him feel happy, but unfortunately, Thomas coldly ignores his son's melodramatic feelings, by which Neil realized all along that his own father truly didn't love him all along, only caring for himself and his dream of turning his son into a doctor, and that for Neil: it was all for nothing.
Depressed and realizing Neil would end up in a situated life far worse than before, Neil makes a point of no return by shooting himself with his father’s revolver, committing suicide to defending Mr. Keating. His death affected not only Neil's parents, but also the DPS members and Welton Academy as well. It was because of his death that Mr. Perry and Richard Cameron believing that it was Mr. Keating "corrupt" Neil with talk of freedom and individuality, as well as revealing the existence of the DPS group and its secrets to Mr. Nolan, thus his death to his father and Cameron (including Nolan) were never believe Neil as they get Mr. John Keating and DPS members to face consequences.
However, His death mean importance to the DPS members and Mr. Keating as their were able to continue his legacy and honoring his passing with Dalton punching the traitor Cameron to free himself from Welton via expulsion, and later by the rest of the DPS members by rebelling and defying Mr. Nolan at the end of the film.
Neil's relationship with his father is more complex and authority-like than a usual love and understanding between father and son, that for his own part, Neil is highly intimidated yet afraid by his domineering father, and yearns to find a way to rebel against his father.
When Mr. Perry finds out the truth involving the school play, he (alongside school adminstration) is so furious with Neil (and Mr. Keating) that he forcefully takes his own son home and withdrawn him to Military School after a retaliation for participating in the play. Neil told his father that going the Military School would mean ten more years of educational lifetime like a prisoner and attempts to gather the courage to stand up to his father of how he feels, but unfornately for Neil, Mr. Perry coldly ignores his son's feelings as well as his melodramatic worries, causing Neil to realize that his own dreams and happiness meant nothing to his father, as well as the fact that Mr. Perry never truly loved him of who his son really was.
It was for this very reason that Neil shoots himself with his father’s revolver, to ensure that his father will never force him of becoming a doctor. Neil’s death broke his father's heart, but it was all in vain when he believe that Mr. Keating corrupted Neil with his free-thinking lessons, (in reality, Keating encourages Neil to chase his own dreams and confront his demons), which causes his father to avoid any redemption.
As Todd Anderson’s roommate, Neil is instrumental in inspiring Todd to be bolder and more confident. There is some controversy over whether or not Todd and Neil were in a romantic relationship at some point during the events of the film.
The general consensus by fans is that there were at least feelings between them, especially as time drew closer to Neil's death; this assumption is based on Todd's poem, references to either Todd or Neil and Walt Whitman by several characters, their obvious disinterest in the girls Charlie brings to a Society meeting, and Todd's intense distraught over Neil's death.
At the end of the film, Neil's death was one of the reasons that Todd finally breaks out of his shell, becoming his own person and to continue his late roommate's legacy.
It was Mr. Keating himself that Neil viewed him as a father figure upon his first encounter with the English teacher, and the very reason that he disobey Mr. Perry to becoming his own person.
When Mr. Perry forces Neil to quit the play, he seeks advice from Keating to help him get his father to understand him, only for Keating to tell Neil that he alone should be the one to tell his father to get him understand in order for him to continue the school play, causing Neil to feel trapped in the situation.
Neil later lied to Keating that he was allowed to participate in the play while his father was in Chicago, when in reality Mr. Perry didn't left as he is still in Vermont. It was because of this that it lead Neil to drove himself to suicide soon after the school play, and his very lies were discovered by Keating, who was sadden for not only by his trickery, but by realizing he had started the DPS group without his knowledge.
Although the conversation between mother and son was only short prior to her son's suicide, and Neil's mother only appears near the end of the film. She appears to be the opposite of her husband, as she was concerned of her son's well-being and kindly begged him to "get some sleep", showing that she does truly care and understand for her son's feelings, unlike her husband who doesn't care how his son feels.
However, Her words were not supportive enough for Neil to regain his happiness: When the family found their son's corpse after the suicide, his mother cried out in despair, all while repeatedly saying that "He's Alright!" as her husband begged her to stop weeping.