It’s been a while since Si and I first watched The Emperor’s Club. It must have been shortly after our oldest was born, meaning that it was around the time we first gave any thought to education at all. At the time, I appreciated the movie as a good one–it was inspiring the way Mr. Holland’s Opus was inspiring, and that was the extent of my thoughts on it.
For starters, I now appreciate it, as someone who understands what it is really all about.
Here I will try to set up the plot without giving anything significant away (a tricky enterprise, I know). Basically, we have, juxtaposed, two main characters. The first is Mr. Hundert, professor at St. Benedict’s School for Boys. He represents classicism and he strives to teach virtue while teaching Western Civilization (the Greeks and the Romans). The second is the rebellious son of a politician, Sedgwick Bell. Bell represents Darwinian naturalistic materialism, as does his father–they question the utility of teaching virtue.
It really is fascinating, especially after reading Poetic Knowledge and Norms and Nobility, both of which take pains to explain that man has a soul and so utility is not the ultimate question of the universe.
In the background, there lingers the idea that “the end is determined by the beginning,” which corresponding Latin phrase serves as the school motto. There also lingers a question: does being lenient on a student, doing him favors, rooting for him more than he does for himself–does it ever pay? Does this do him a favor? Is there ever an instance in which others do not suffer for it?
In all, an excellent movie. Not for children; highly recommended.
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