Unlike most teachers in inspirational-teacher movies, William Hundert (Kevin Kline) isn’t charismatic or cool; in fact, he’s stiff and a bit boring. I like that about him.
He isn’t selling students (or the audience) his own personality, authenticity, or commitment; he isn’t selling education as self-actualization (Dead Poets Society), doesn’t work miracles with disaffected kids (Dangerous Minds), and doesn’t succeed with every single student who walks through his door (Mr. Holland’s Opus).
He’s overly pedantic: Instead of merely urging a student to stay off the grass, he exhorts, "Walk where the great men who have gone before you have walked" — not just because it’s good for the grass, but "because it’s good for you."
By the time we meet Mr. Hundert’s one and only problem student — a class clown (Emile Hirsch) whose father (Harris Yulin) is a senator — it almost looks as if the movie is going to be about the free-spirited youngster inspiring the inhibited teacher to seize the day, rather than the inspirational teacher transforming the unmotivated student.
Refreshingly, The Emperor’s Club turns out to be about neither of these things. Instead, it’s a rather thoughtful look at the purpose and limits of education, the importance of character and principle, and the meaning of success and failure in life.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.