First film. The Emperor’s Club.
Kevin Kline stars as Mr. William Hundert, a very dedicated and inspiring classics professor who has devoted his life to teaching at a prep school for boys. A new student, Sedgewick Bell, the headstrong son of a powerful senator, joins his class and inexorably changes his life. It is a clash of wills and personalities as these two people seemingly battle for the hearts and souls of the others students in St. Benedictus.
The film starts with Mr. Hundert being flown out to a grand and luxurious hotel to be the guest of honor in his students’ impromptu reunion. Mr. Hundert narrates how his life is,
… a man’s character is his fate. And as a student of history, I find this hard to refute…
Agreeable, and by then you’d see where all this is headed; to a long and winding flashback of how he got there (to the place from which he is now narrating in). For he is right, most of us have our whole lives ahead of us even before we had the chance to explore the world. Princes, for one. Politicians, another. You fill in the rest.
…I knew them before all of that. I knew them as my students…
We see the story of how Mr. Hundert’s life as a teacher and his life with his students unfold. His methods, classical, and very Grecian, but the same thing applies, as in every teacher’s humble abode, tyranny. The teacher is the head of the caterpillar. This is a common theme in film featuring all boy schools; rules..rules…rules. Mr. H’s class go about discussing history, ancient poets, and mythology when in the middle of the semester, arrives a new student. The catalyst to what would soon be the change in Mr. Hundert’s methods of teaching and of his students as well. In the story, Sedgewick manages to steal Hundert’s heart and slowly becomes excellent in his classes. His views and will as a professor get challenged. The schools holds a very prestigious contest every year, Mr. Julius Caesar, a contest, where students battle wit and knowledge on certain aspects to be crowned Caesar. The going gets tough … Mr. Hundert gets torn between wanting to accept Sedgewick for the top three places for the final round, or letting a certain student (Blythe) follow onto the footsteps of his father to becoming the next Caesar.
And yes.. to cut the story short, Sedgewill got the part.
Unfortunately, Sedgewick, faced with pressure and high expectations from his father, a powerful senator, resorted to cheating in the contest by taping up key questions and answers to his robe. Mr. Hundert saw through it clearly but decided not to call on him.
S: How come you didn’t stand up and call me out?
W: It’s a completed matter Sedgewick.
S: It wasn’t because of my father now, was it?
W: It wasn’t because of your father.
S: Sure Mr. Hundert, sure.
Now, from a very subjective point-of-view, of course it was about his father! Imagine that story! A powerful politician’s son cheats on a contest. That would ruin careers, relationships, business, among others. And for Mr. Hundert, he was nothing compared to Sedgewick’s father. He was just a lowly teacher, tasked to teach classical theories and not ‘mold’ his students. But we both know that is not the case, now ain’t it? Mr. Hundert did not call on him because he felt betrayed. This was the guy he rooted for. The student he saw grew, and had the material but chose to not use it! This was the guy, supposedly ranked fourth but he ‘purposely’ gave away the third guy’s (Blythe) spot for him. And he cheated!
Now.. let’s recap. The film started with Mr. William Hundert narrating on how his life as a teacher had been. How his days with his boys were. Why he came, therefore, was not because he missed them, although it may be true, but because he hoped. He hoped his Sedgewick has changed. He hoped his ‘one’ failure grew to be a fine man.
What do you think happened?
… a man’s character is his fate. And as a student of history I find this hard to refute…
A film that showed one very awesome thing: A teacher’s worth is not defined by countless failure or a solitary success. Directed by Michael Hoffman, a classic tale of how a teacher fails on student, but somehow, manages to influence a lot more, shows that the true worth of a teacher is depicted by his contribution to history.
The film has a very touching ending. Mr. Hundert looks through the window and sees Martin. Soon after, Martin Blythe’s son, a spitting image of Sedgewick Bell, attends Hundert’s class and he is tasked to read the very plaque his father did on their first class, mispronouncing the same word Martin did, during his time.
… a man’s character is his fate…
…great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance. How will history remember you?…