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The Emperor's Club
Mr. Julius Caesar
The Emperor’s Club is a story of a teacher and his students. Mr. William Hundert is a professor at St. Benedict’s Academy teaching Classic 101. He does not only teach it but is passionate about the Romans and the Greeks and their contribution to today’s society – and he wants his students to display the same passion for the classics.
The students at St. Benedict’s Academy, an all-boys academy, are inspired to study hard in order to become one of the three contestants for The Emperor's Club and be crowned "Mr. Julius Caesar" of the year, a “noble honor indeed” according to the headmaster of the academy.
The most prominent of Mr. Hundert’s students vying for the crown are Louis Masoudi, Martin Blythe, and Deepak Mehta who are all highly intelligent.
For the years that Mr. Hundert has been teaching Classic 101, he has never encountered any problem until Sedgewick Bell comes into his class. Mr. Bell is a senator’s son who makes it clear that he is different from Mr. Hundert’s usually disciplined, eager-to-learn students.
At first, it is evident that Mr. Hundert is exasperated by Mr. Bell’s cocky attitude. When his attempt to reach out to the boy fails, he decides to bring the matter to Sedgewick’s father, the senator.
The meeting between senator and professor is a memorable scene in the movie.
In the course of the conversation, Mr. Hundert says, “As a teacher it is my job to mold your son.”
His statement enrages the senator who tells Mr. Hundert emphatically, “Your job is to teach my son. You teach him his times tables. Teach him why the world is round. Teach him who killed who and when and where. That is your job. You, sir, will not mold by son. I will mold my son!”
Here is where the story revolves. It is pretty clear that Mr. Hundert desires to make Sedgewick a better student and a better person. It is this desire that makes him compromise his integrity as a professor by undermining the efforts of one student in favor of Sedgewick.
The movie tells us the reason for his seeming interest in Sedgewick. He sympathizes with the boy whose father has no time for him, whose father does not believe that the boy can achieve anything. He identifies with Sedgewick because he, too, has a father who did not have time for him. He sees himself in Sedgewick.
He helps the boy move up the class standing and like a proud father, he delights in the boy’s progress. It has cemented his belief that the boy just needs encouragement and motivation.
An unforgettable scene in the movie is when he grades the boys’ papers for the final ranking as to who goes up the top 3 and compete for the “Mr. Julius Caesar” crown. Sedgewick gets the 4th spot but Mr. Hundert does the unthinkable -- he changes Sedgewick’s grade to bump him up to 3rd place, thus bringing down Martin Blythe and crushing his hope of ever achieving his father’s feat.
Martin Blythe is one student who, under the pressure of becoming a “Mr. Julius Caesar” like his father, has diligently studied but lost his chance in the hands of a teacher who allows his emotions and his wrong assumptions dictate his decision.
On the other hand, here is another student whom Mr. Hundert believes may gain integrity if given the chance. He thinks that competing in the contest and winning can change Sedgewick’s character but to Mr. Hundert’s dismay, Sedgewick cheats in the competition – the competition where Martin Blythe rightly belongs.
If Mr. Hundert has decided based solely on grades as it should have been, Martin Blythe might even have won the competition. It may just be the motivation that Martin Blythe needs to get out of his shell, being introverted as he is.
Mr. Hundert allows his own personal experience with his father cloud his decision. Just because he feels for Sedgewick did not give him the right to remove Martin Blythe from the competition. Yes, it is right to give a chance to someone you believe in but not at the expense of another whose dreams you just might be crushing.
Mr. Hundert feels a bit of guilt when he sees the devastated Martin Blythe, but the professor goes on his way after a brief pause. It is dramatic when Mr. Hundert realizes that the young Sedgewick is cheating and Mr. Hundert is the most hurt.
Mr. Hundert makes a last minute change in the final question and Sedgewick loses to Deepak Mehta.
25 Years Later
After 25 years, a highly successful Sedgewick Bell arranges a rematch for the “Mr. Julius Caesar” crown and invites his classmates and Mr. Hundert.
At the rematch, Mr. Hundert finds out that Sedgewick still lacks integrity. Again, Sedgewick cheats in the rematch and Mr. Hundert has to change the final question. Sedgewick’s plan backfires and loses to Deepak Mehta once again. To Mr. Hundert’s disappointment, Sedgewick admits that he is going to do anything to win and shamelessly continues to lie as he announces his bid for a senatorial seat.
It is in that part of the movie that Mr. Hundert feels he owes Martin Blythe the truth and a long overdue apology. Martin Blythe must have been taught well by his parents or he might have picked up good values from Mr. Hundert because he did not begrudge his old professor – in fact, he sent his son to his class.
Mr. Hundert, in his ending narrative says, “I came here in the hope that I have been wrong about Sedgewick or that I am right, right to believe in him all those years ago… I had failed Sedgewick but the worth of a life is not determined by a single failure or a solitary success – my other students taught me that. However much we stumble, it is a teacher's burden always to hope, that with learning, a boy's character might be changed. And, so, the destiny of a man.”
As far as I am concerned, I feel that Mr. Hundert has failed as a teacher, not because of his failure to change Sedgewick’s character but because of the injustice he has done to Martin Blythe.
The Emperor’s Club is a 2002 drama film directed by Michael Hoffman, written by Ethan Canin and Neil Tolkin. I recommend this highly especially to teachers.