As many people did while watching the previews for this movie, I immediately
thought, Dead Poets Society. After all, there were scenes from
a boy’s school and of an inspiring teacher. But since the teacher in this
movie was played by Kevin Kline (one of my favorite actors), I was determined
to see it.
While watching the credits roll, I thought about how much better than Dead
Poets Society it was. At the very least, Emperor’s Club
is substantially more mature. The plots of both movies—inspirational teacher
meets a certain class at a traditional boys’ prep school—fall along
similar lines, but the themes are quite different. Unlike Dead Poets Society,
which (as a typical ‘80s movie) seemed determined to sentimentalize rebellio
against the "stuffy" boys’ school atmosphere, The Emperor’s
Club takes a more complex view of prep school education and where it leads.
The story is told from the teacher’s point of view rather than the students’,
which helps. And it’s told with the benefit of hindsight, which helps even
more. Mr. Hundert (Kline) tells about the moral dilemmas he faced while trying
to inspire a particularly difficult student in the class of 1976. Later we join
him at a chance to face those decisions 30 years later.
It’s refreshing to see a movie about ethical dilemmas—complex ones
at that. Kevin Kline did a fabulous job as he usually does, and although the
plot was conventional, it was somehow conventional in a new way (if that's possible). You could spend
your evening in worse ways than seeing The Emperor’s Club—for
instance, you could rent Dead Poets Society. (Honestly, I never
disliked Dead Poets Society until now.)