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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
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
think -- in all the ways that school should have, and the DPSociety
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.
"The Emperor's Club" is a lot different than you would think. It does run a
bit on cheesy sentimentality, but the ending is more than surprising
considering the type of film this is.
It is a period-piece about a teacher (Kevin Kline) at a prestigious school for boys, and how he tries to "mould" a strong-willed fifteen-year-old boy. And if you want a hint at the surprise ending, don't read any farther, because I cannot control telling you that in the end he does not change the boy. Which is what truly amazed me. Most of the time in films like these, we see the free-spirited kid become proper and respectful. But not so here. This tale doesn't have a perfect teacher turning a bad boy into a perfect boy. It has a flawed teacher wasting years on one student. Years later at a party, he tells the boy, Sedgewick (now an adult), "as a teacher I have failed you." And that's what is so very different about this movie. It isn't as heavy on the drama as I thought it would be, and comes across a bit cheesy and fluffy at times, but the ending is more surprising than "The Sixth Sense" ever will be. It doesn't rely on tried-and-used methods, but goes for a new route. And just when you think that it's as depressing as it can get, the very, very end gives your spirit a bit of a boost.
Kline realizes that in those years that Sedgewick attended his class, he ignored the other students who were trying - and actually cared - about what they were doing. It kind of sheds a new light on the films where a teacher devotes time to one student in particular, because after seeing this film, I bet ten bucks next time you watch a film of the same roots you'll realize that the teacher is ignoring the other students. And "The Emperor's Club" exposes this. Kline's character is flawed, and while he is a good teacher, he makes mistakes, such as spending so much time on Sedgewick and bumping a smarter kid off of the school toga challenge, just so he can put Sedgewick in it (the challenge).
Kevin Kline isn't Otto here. "A$$hole!" is not a motto here. We've got Kline giving a thoroughly convincing performance as a 1970s all-boys school teacher. Kline's makeup at the end of the film is quite good as well, as opposed to something like "The Dish" where Sam Neil's makeup looks like it's about to fall off his face and his wig is about to be plucked off by a gust of wind.
I also liked the student actors in this film. The actors they got to play the various students were pretty good; in fact, many of them were very good. I hope their careers continue after this film, and as hateable as Sedgewick was in this film, the kid who played him was pretty convincing. You always know this when you start to like or dislike a character, much less hate or love them.
At the end of the film, I like the subtle differences in years. In the 1970s, a group of boys travel across a lake to check out the all-girls school, where nuns shoo them away. 28 years later, as Kline's character walks towards his schoolroom, we see boys and girls walking around. In 28 years society has changed, and it's funny to wonder if that group of boys from the 1970s ever thought that in 28 years, what they were paddling across a lake for would be right next to them.
From `Goodbye Mr. Chips' in the 1930's to `Dead Poet's Society' in the
1980's, the movies have had a long-running love affair with inspirational,
sentimental stories set at ivy-covered, collegiate-gothic, all-male prep
schools. These films inevitably center around a beloved teacher and the
lifelong bond he forges with his devoted students.
The latest addition to the genre a successful one is `The Emperor's Club,' with Kevin Kline assuming the role of the teacher who considers it his duty not only to instruct his students in the details of classical history but to mold them into men of integrity and character in the process. `The Emperor's Club' follows the standard formula up to a point. William Hundert is the most highly respected faculty member at St. Benedict's Academy. He is able to bring the history of the ancient Greeks and Romans to vivid life for his admittedly highly motivated young charges. Then, one day, into his classroom strides Sedgwick Bell, a bright, highly unmotivated student who would rather mock the stuffiness of education and inspire his buddies to feats of rabblerousing than devote his life to the serious pursuit of academia. It, thus, becomes Hundert's job to turn Sedgwick around, a feat that always seems much easier to accomplish in the movies than it ever is in real life.
`The Emperor's Club,' after its rather conventional beginning, deviates from its predecessors in one key respect: Hundert, though a man of values and integrity, is not above compromise himself, and he winds up making a very serious one, the ramifications of which he has to live with for many years to come. Rather than showing him as some sort of saintly figure, screenwriter Neil Tolkin (working from a short story by Ethan Canin) and director Michael Hoffman allow Hundert's humanity to shine through. He is a flawed individual who permits personal feelings to cloud his judgments and who is willing, once he has created a problem, to allow the truth of his own guilt to remain hidden even when innocent victims suffer as a result of his actions. `The Emperor's Club' is also notable for its clear-eyed recognition that not all situations in life need have a satisfying resolution, that some people simply do not acknowledge their own failings and, therefore, never develop into morally superior people no matter how many experiences life throws at them. Yet, what breaks Hundert's heart is the recognition he comes to that such a person is often times more highly rewarded by the world than the man who follows along the straight-and-narrow path all his life.
Kline gives a superb performance as Hundert, capturing the quiet dignity, understated passion and conflicted conscience of a man who loves his boys and who tries to do the right thing but who, like the rest of us, doesn't always succeed in doing so. Emile Hirsch is also excellent as young Sedgwick, the boy whose need for attention and lack of moral guidance from his father lead him to accept the winning-at-all-cost philosophy to get him through life.
`The Emperor's Club,' despite having its roots firmly planted in a grand storytelling tradition, still manages to take us into new territory from time to time and its recognition of the importance of education and academics (we actually get to learn a little about Roman history while watching the movie) makes it virtually unique among films of its time.
Perhaps teacher movies should be judged on their own merits, but it's
human nature to compare. Although I also love Dead Poet's Society, I
consider The Emperor's Club one of the most compelling movies I have
ever seen. The two are actually worlds apart, with Emperor's Club
definitely a more cerebral film. Dead Poets seems more student oriented
(students shun conformity as a result of teacher impact) and Emperor's
Club more teacher focused (teacher struggles to inspire challenging
student and is faced with difficult choices). Also, they have very
distinct themes, with Dead Poets focusing more on individuality and
'seizing the day', while Emperor's Club revolves around character and
ethics. Unlike Dead Poets (and also Mona Lisa Smile), the Emperor's
Club teacher has no controversial subject matter or approaches, just
relatively traditional (though passionate & effective) teaching
The story depicts Mr. Hundert, a highly respected and idealistic Classics professor at an ivy covered, prestigious boys' prep school, St. Benedict's. He tries to impart a passion for Greek & Roman history to his relatively motivated students, while also conveying the importance of principles and contribution to society. All passes smoothly until the arrival of Sedgewick Bell, the obnoxious and rebellious son of a slimy Senator (who neglects his 'nuisance' offspring and exhibits an unfortunate tendency to profanity). A battle of wills ensues between teacher and student, as Sedgewick not only disrupts the class himself but inspires rowdy disrespect among his classmates. Mr. Hundert sees the vast potential in this antagonistic student and makes every effort to motivate Sedgewick to apply himself to his studies and also to exhibit personal integrity. In the process, Mr. Hundert, himself a dedicated teacher with great integrity, neglects his other students to focus on the one. He illegitimately enables Sedgewick to participate as a finalist in the school's annual Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, secretly passing over the truly deserving student, Martin Blythe. A reunion 25 years later will depict the impact of this teacher's flawed choices on his former student's character and whether or not past injustices can finally be righted.
I don't want to give the outcome away, but this reunion provides a fascinating portrait of Mr. Hundert's students as grown men. We can examine the world's view of their success versus our own, witnessing their career choices, their wives & families, and especially their character traits...whether contributory and noble or self absorbed and dishonourable. Compelling glimpses of two of these student's offspring, Robert Bell and Martin Blythe IV, prove to be incredibly revealing.
Kevin Kline, an under rated actor, is masterfully convincing in the role of the scholarly, dignified, and conflicted Mr. Hundert, and his 25 year aging process seems well depicted. Also, the roles of the boys Martin, Louis, Deepak, and of course the unpleasant Sedgewick are all well cast, as well as their older versions.
This is not simply another great film about an extraordinary teacher who has a profound impact upon his students. What distinguishes this movie from the rest is that Mr. Hundert, though a wonderfully dedicated and moral teacher, is himself flawed and compromises his own principles. In some respects, this actually makes him a much more three dimensional, realistic, and compelling character than such previous exemplary teachers as Mr. Chips (Good Bye, Mr. Chips), Mr. Keating (Dead Poets Society), and Mr. Holland (Mr. Holland's Opus). The theme here revolves not only around Mr. Hundert's impact on the boys but also his inner conflict, actually more significant than any external struggle with the rabble rousing Sedgewick or the misguided system that focuses more on fund raising than academic excellence. The film makes the point that sometimes the moral choice is not always clear cut, that crossing an unethical boundary can appear all too justifiable, and that one unprincipled decision may lead to another. There is a subtly conveyed sense as to the extent that Mr. Hundert's unethical decisions have haunted him during the intervening decades and possibly even affected his subsequent career path, as he is passed over for the Headmaster's position and begins to question his own value as an educator.
The little sub plot is actually quite engaging (not irrelevant, as some claim) that portrays the potential romance between Mr. Hundert and Elizabeth, a lovely but married fellow teacher. Its purpose is to give another indication of Mr. Hundert's character and integrity, this time revealed through his personal life. Although these two are obviously close kindred spirits with a mutual attraction, he makes no attempt to move beyond platonic friendship. His emotional but restrained response is well conveyed when Elizabeth announces that she is moving to England with her husband, who has obtained a position at Oxford.
Personally, I found all the Greek & Roman History class scenes quite engaging and enjoyed the competition with its trio of toga clad contestants. It all made me wish I was a student myself in Mr. Hundert's Classics class, surrounded by all those busts of Cicero, Socrates, Plato, and Caesar.
The Emperor's Club is a unique, intelligent, and thought provoking film that contrasts society's misguided values with the truly meaningful and important. Very few movies today deal with ethical issues, but this one explores such moral matters as teacher favouritism, bending the rules, and cheating. It prompts discussion, encouraging the viewer to question his own views of right and wrong in these situations. The movie also challenges our thinking as to exactly what does constitute teacher success, as we watch Mr Hundert come to grips with his own personal definition. The quiet ending may be less intense and dramatic than Dead Poets Society, but is equally moving and powerful. As a former teacher myself, my hat goes off to Mr. Hundert. Although very human and with some lessons to learn himself, this dedicated teacher serves as an inspirational role model for viewers of this film as well as for his students.
I can't help feel bit jealous when ever I see Private Schools in
movies. My high school was unfortunately full of teachers who didn't
give half a goddamn about you. And it was/is one of the most respected
(read pretentious) in the country. I never learned one single thing
that was actually of use to me and I believe going to such a place is
mostly responsible for turning me into the faithless cynic that I am
In this movie Kevin Kline (a seriously underused actor) plays a history teacher who is dedicated to making sure his students grow up to be fine and morally sound, upstanding people. They all get along until Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsh)the hell-raising son of an arrogant Governor arrives in class. His grades are terrible but Mr. Hundert sees intelligence in the boy and struggles to push him in the right direction at the expense of the rest of the class who actually want and care for education. Over the years he comes to regret his mistakes but sees a chance to put things right again with a reunion of all his former students organised by Sedgewick who appears to want to put things right.
There are loads of Student/Teacher movies out there but what separates The Emperor's Club from the likes of Dead Poet's Society and Mr. Holland's Opus is that Mr. Hundert's teaching is never in doubt. But he is flawed. Kevin Kline is so good in the role that for most of the film I thought I was watching a real person and not a character. And doesn't he sound like Niles from Frasier?
I do wish I went to somewhere like St. Benedicts or at least had a teacher like Mr. Hundert. It seems that teachers who really care only exist in the movies As are students who are willing to learn. Or perhaps it's just my bad non-education that skews my opinion. Still, I know good movies when I see one and The Emperor's Club get's my recommendation if you're sick of Hollywood, massive budgets, overblown SFX and intrusive marketing and just want a good character drama.
I say that this is a tough sell of a movie because it seems like most
movies marketing of late have to have some catch,hook or twist about it
to sell to audiences,something either sexy,violent or both. Movies that
stress intellectual or moral higher pursuits are somewhat rare to come
by and when they are,they either are heavy-handed(Dead Poets Society)or
arcane,word-of-mouth projects(Kidco,Stand and Deliver).If they don't
feature some level of arousing interest(two examples:Sirens or
Kinsey,both films I greatly appreciated BTW),then they are probably
going to fall under the wheels of Hollywood's promotional behemoth if
they are produced for the large screen.
Such,I suspect,is the case with The Emperors Club, a Neil Tolin screenplay based on a Ethan Canin short story. The central figure is one William Hundert(Kevin KLine,perhaps never more dignified in role),a well-respected and generally popular teacher at a Catholic,boys-only academy,who teaches the classics(i.e.Roman and Greek history and culture). His long stay as an educator is put to the test(probably not the only time,but what has to be the most memorable) in the 1976-77 school year when an arrogant,selfish son of a congressman(Emile Hirsch,avec David Cassidy fro)enrolls in the school,for whom Hundert decides he's going to make a special effort to "mold" into a true student of enlightenment. His efforts then have effects on both his students and himself that stay with him long after.
Well-acted,well-scripted,thoughtful and gently guided by Michael Hoffman(who directed Kline in the pleasant Midsummer Night's Dream adaptation three years earlier),this film quietly came and went in the Autumn of 2002 and it seems like a shame,but not un-understandably so. This is a show with virtually no violence and very little(if any)sexual content and the majority of the cast are either rising young stars who haven't quite reached high acclaim yet or are older character actors,so one will enter this on virtually a blind-faith interest of the film's topic or(more likely)an appreciation for Mr.Kline. To be honest and tell on myself,when this film was out I passed it up and didn't really sit down to appreciate it until very recently,and that was a a free library rental! As is,free or not,this is clearly a unique and recommendable movie.
The movie deals with a good and idealist teacher ( Kevin Kline ) of
Roman classic history and his relationship to a roguish and rebel
pupil( Emile Hirsch ) in a high class prep school . The professor tries
to redeem him but the continuous challenge makes that the incorrigible
student ( besides he is a senator's son : Harris Yulin ) results to be
more and less difficult or impossible to dominate him . Meanwhile the
starring falls in love with an attractive though married teacher (
Embeth Davidtz ) and has problems with the college director ( Edward
The picture is based on a Ethan Canin's book titled ¨ Palace thief ¨. The story is narrated with sensitivity and intelligence and are treated ethic and moral issues developed in great sense of ductility and fairness . The professor will have to face on the truth that can be manipulated o phony . The motion picture takes part of the school genre whose maxim representation turns out to be the prestigious ¨ Dead poet society ¨ by Peter Weir . The film is displayed throughout among past and present time where we find the same characters though twenty five years later , except Kevin Kline the actors are different . The actors' interpretation is excellent as Kevin Kline as mature and old professor hands perfectly the role , Emile Hirsch as the rascal young is top notch and Embeth Davidtz is wonderful and enjoyable . James Newton Howard's musical score is sensitive and touching . The story is well directed by Michael Hoffman . Rating : Above average , well worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very significant film about a well respected teacher who tries to
correct the ways of a spoiled rowdy kid in an all boys prep school. The
film shows how the teacher is trying to change the son of a senator,
who does not spend anytime in his studies, but focuses on girls, and
does a lot of schemes. And as Mr. Hundert does his best, he believes he
has changed him after he sees that he is improving on his studies and
getting better grades, and decides to put him on the annual Mr. Julius
Caesar, and every time he answers, it looks as though he is thinking,
you know, when you put your head down, or cover your face, and after
that the gives the right one. But, as he fails to answer the last
question and looses, Mr. Hundert finds out the truth, Sedgewick has
been cheating, he has been using fake mannerisms, and had sheets of the
answers he copied from the books he borrowed from Mr. Hundert, and 25
years later he wants a rematch, and he brings a reunion which he seems
to be using only to promote a campaign for him running as Senator. And
once again he discovers that he is cheating, using someone to tell him
the answers via transmission. He tells him he fails and gives him a
final lecture regarding his ways, but Sedgewick disagrees. And at the
end you see him all miserable, leaving, but all his student give him a
big surprise. They give him a bat, and thank him for everything he's
done. He also comes to Martin Blythe, who is said to have a legacy,
yeah, his father won the Mr. Julius Caesar competition long ago, tells
him that it should have been him to be in the contest long ago instead
of Sedgewick. Now, as he continues teaching, a new student who is late,
comes in, and finds out he is the son of Martin, and, what does he do?
He does what he did at the beginning. He tells him to stand at the back
and read the plaque at the wall, the sayings of Shutruk Nahunte.
Overall, this is a beautiful film, with a beautiful message going out
to all students and teachers all around, to value studying and paying
attention and class, and to have eagerness, take pride in it. I
disagree very much to what some say to this film having the anti-Bush
sentiments, for there are more cheaters in this world outside politics
and America. You are ignoring the 'real message' of this film, just as
Sedgewick is ignoring his studies, as I said earlier, this is about
valuing our teachers, and studies, for you will never know, that it
will help you one day as you grow, get a job, get married and have
kids, you will use the virtues given to you and practice and preach
what you've been taught. And to me, some of it is a bit like the
episode of The Twilight Zone Changing of the Guard, about the professor
who is resigned, feels his life has been wasted, then the ghosts of his
students, tell him he has more contribution and he taught them values
that made them great people, and war heroes, and that his teachings
were not in vain, and his life has not been wasted. All hail The
Emperor's Club, I, who is about to end, recommends this to the whole
family, to students, and teachers!
Thank you Mr. Kline, thank you Mr. Hoffman For an inspirational story, though a bit cliché, convincing acting, and stunning performances of Emile Hirsch, Jesse Eisenberg, Paul Dano, and Rishi Mehta, I grade this an A.
There is no doubt that Kevin Kline is both a funny man and a fine comedic
actor. However, as he has proved yet again, anything other than dramatic
roles is a waste of his acting talent.
In the finest film he has made, he is superb in his role as school teacher and mentor to a generation of boys -- including one particular bad egg.
Excellently cast, scripted and acted, this is a must see.
This film is about a history teacher engraving his wisdom and virtues
in his students' hearts.
According to my vote history, I watched it in around April 2003 time, and I gave it a 6. I borrowed this DVD again a few days ago from the library, not remembering I have watched it. I thought it could not have been a good film if I could not remember watching it. It was so wrong! I really like the plot of this film. It is so touching and affecting. I felt so drawn to the characters of the film. Mr Hundert's dedication and enormous enthusiasm is infectiously touching. Even Mr Hundert has such high virtues, he still made a mistake. To think that Mr Hundert must have chided himself for 25 years about not letting Martin be in the competition is almost unbearable. This contrasts Sedgewick Bell, a non conformer. He breaks all the rules and never regrets it, maybe except at the end. The two characters create such an interesting parallel, and gives much room for thought. This film touched me a lot. It is captivating and thought provoking. It truly deserves more attention than it gets.
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