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William Hundert is a passionate and principled Classics professor who finds his tightly-controlled world shaken and inexorably altered when a new student, Sedgewick Bell, walks into his classroom. What begins as a fierce battle of wills gives way to a close student-teacher relationship, but results in a life lesson for Hundert that will still haunt him a quarter of a century later. Written by
Kevin Kline's character, William Hundert, is modeled after Robert Nowe, a classical history teacher at Town School for Boys in San Francisco, who inspired the short story on which the film is based. See more »
As the boys are running into the building after Hundert breaks the car window with a baseball, a red headed boy near Hundert drops his bat twice. See more »
Is everything okay, sir?
Fine, thank you. Here.
[reaches into his pocket]
Let me, uh...
That's not necessary, sir.
As I've gotten older, I realize I'm certain of only two things. Days that begin with rowing on a lake are better than days that do not. Second, a man's character is his fate. And as a student of history, I find this hard to refute. For most of us our stories can be written long before we die. There are exceptions among the great men of history, ...
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I can see exactly why comparisons to Dead Poets' Society abound. Having attended boarding school and developed an irrational attachment to that film at the time, I have since discarded it like an overworn leisure suit, and tried to move on to more interesting fare. But honestly, this film made me think -- in all the ways that school should have, and the DPSociety didn't even try to.
Robin Williams has never starred in a thinking man's film, which is why, in the end, the comparison between the two movies doesn't hold up. To get The Emperor's Club, you have to actually grasp why someone might be inspired by history -- by a time when men could truly fail, or conquer, or establish a foothold in eternity. The fact that we know Socrates existed is astounding. It is luck. If James Carville goes down in history it will be an accident, if a likely one. The point of this film is that difference -- the difference between men whose character demands to be remembered, and men whose character demands to be forgotten. It is also the story of two systems of reward and recognition -- one that produced Plato and one that produced Jerry Springer. That is why we study history, as the movie says. To learn from and be inspired by the great leaders who came before us, and to overcome the moral mediocrity of the modern world.
But, as the film concludes, great men are no longer chosen to lead. The Emperor's Club, while cloaked in the guise of a charming elitist flick, is actually a tale of profound disappointment and disillusionment regarding human society. The few great men who are left exist in the shadows, while the ignorant grandstanders wield political power. We elect them; we are in their hands. And it is all because of a lack of awareness, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of history. People don't vote for principle -- they vote for rhetoric. And it shows.
I was not expecting too much from this movie, other than the always pleasurable experience of watching Kevin Kline. But, wrapped up in the sentimental moralizing, there was the story of a great man doing the only great thing left: trying to bring others out the darkness. His success or failure is as immaterial as the execution of Socrates -- it really is the thought that counts.
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