FOUR STARS - INSPIRING
The training of our children for moral lives of lasting contribution requires a partnership of parents and teachers. When united in a common set of faith and values, the character of the child is given an environment in which virtues can flourish and service is expected. This truth in all its realistic struggles is presented in Michael Hoffman's "The Emperor's Club."
Set within the prep-school of St. Benedict's, the privileged children of wealth and power have been placed in the care of an exceptional teacher. Full of passion for the classics of our Western Civilization, Mr. Hundert (Kevin Klein) teaches to the souls of his students. Presenting history not as antiquated information but as preparation for living a meaning-filled life, Mr. Hundert's students are confronted with the reality that a person's character determines how history will record them. To make a lasting contribution, history shows, one must live a moral and virtuous life.
Though the film goes on to expose how this choice does not guarantee that the moral will always succeed and the immoral will always fail, the underlying truth speaks to our souls. In every generation, we watch as some of the most privileged among us languish due to moral failure. From business to government, their contributions to the greater good quickly fade as their lives reveal their true character.
The "Emperor's Club" also demonstrates that, even in the moral life, there are moments of temptation when we are moved to set aside our honesty or integrity for a moment. This is shown when Mr. Hundert attempts to motivate the son of a United States Senator at the expense of another student.
Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), is an arrogant teen whose father has no time for him. Placed within St. Benedict's to connect him with persons of wealth and influence, Sedgewick is an immoral opportunist who mirrors his father's character. Reaching out to Sedgewick, Mr. Hundert changes the grade of one of his papers to enable him to be one of three finalists in an academic competition. It is this lapse of moral judgment by Mr. Hundert that becomes a foothold for an increasing immorality. Harming both the boy who rightfully should have been in the competition and placing Sedgewick in a place he is not academically able to handle, the temptations increase and lives are harmed.
This is why virtue is important. The guidance of morality is not imposed upon us as an irrelevant expectation of the overly religious or fearfully legalistic. Moral guidance is for the well-being of both the individual and society as a whole. To be honest, faithful, compassionate and generous is good for the soul. To be without honesty, faith, compassion and care is to be devoid of the very ingredients necessary for lives of meaningful contribution.
"The Emperor's Club" is a clear message for a world in search of moral answers to the complex problems we face. When completed by living with a faith in God, it is a message that could change the future as we build on the lessons of the past.
- In a day when ethics are lacking in so many political leaders we’ve experienced the damaging impacts. Discuss what the effects are if a senator, like Bell, has no moral commitment. What will this do to the Senate? What will this do to the people in his state? What will this do to his son? How can we tell whether the rhetoric is just a spin to get elected or a true, life commitment?
- The temptation to help those who need help often pulls us to step on those who are doing well. Discuss how the decision of Mr. Hundert to help Sedgewick could have been done without stepping on Martin Blythe (Paul Franklin). Explore how Martin bringing his son to Mr. Hundert’s class was an act of forgiveness and trust. Discuss whether this was an even more empowering experience for both Martin and Mr. Hundert as they faced the betrayal which occurred years earlier.
- Set within a Christian prepschool of St. Benedict’s, discuss why you think Jesus and his ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount were not mentioned. Why were the Greeks and their culture the identity of the ethical teaching of the film? What would have been different if Jesus had been the focus of Mr. Hundert’s teaching on character?
- Was it unjust of the board to not make Mr. Hundert head of the school? Was such a promotion a match for his gifts and interests? Is longevity the best or primary ingredient for advancement?