Emperor's Club Plot

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William Hundert (Kevin Kline) is a passionate Classics professor enthusiastic about the start of the school year. His class turns out to be a strict yet inspiring lesson for the new students arriving at St. Benedict's Academy. They include laid-back Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg), the introverted Martin Blythe (Paul Dano), and the studious Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta), all highly intelligent. Hundert inspires his students to study hard in order to become one of the three contestants for The Emperor's Club and be crowned "Mr. Julius Caesar," a competition which puts the top three students of his class in a contest where they will be asked questions regarding the Classics. When the headmaster (Edward Hermann) explains the contest to the students, he mentions that Martin's father was once a "Mr. Julius Caesar." Hundert quickly gains the respect of his class and the school year gets off to an orderly start. However, Hundert's tightly controlled world is shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), walks into his classroom. Bell is the cocky son of a senior U.S. Senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. A fierce battle of wills begins between Hundert and Bell. Bell's rebellious nature quickly makes him the interest of the class, as he not only is willing to talk back against Hundert, he also freely shares pornographic material and is willing to play hooky and travel off-limits to a nearby prep school for girls. Despite Blythe's constant pleas not to break the rules, Masoudi and even studious Mehta find themselves enjoying their rebellious tendencies with Bell. Hundert humiliates Bell when he asks the class to list, in chronological order, all the Roman emperors. The other students comply in perfect unison, effectively embarrassing Bell, who has not studied the course material. Hundert also makes a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with Senator Bell from West Virginia. Bell's father is clearly uninterested in his son's character development while at St. Benedict's, instead telling Hundert just to teach Bell lessons so he can graduate, giving Hundert some insight into the younger Bell's upbringing. Hundert returns to St. Benedict's, where in a phone call, Senator Bell chews out Sedgewick for wasting his time in having to see Hundert and his money on the tuition. (But he does not yell at his son for being a slacker.) After seeing a chastised Sedgewick, Hundert tries to develop a closer student-teacher relationship and become a mentor to Bell in order to help change him into a better man. Bell starts studying, proving to be a bright student, and his grades improve enormously. Bell finishes in the top three in Hundert's competition that precedes the Mr. Julius Ceasar contest, along with classmates Masoudi and Mehta. Bell had actually earned fourth place until Hundert privately decided to raise his grade on the final essay after reviewing it again, thus moving him above Blythe, the third place winner, whose father before him had been an Mr. Julius Ceasar winner, putting him under much pressure to live up to his father's reputation. Hundert is caught between celebrating Bell's newfound success and feeling guilty when he sees a despondent Blythe sitting all by himself under a tree. The entire school watches the competition as the three contestants are quizzed by Hundert. After many questions, the confident Masoudi is the first to make a mistake and he is thus eliminated. Hundert becomes increasingly suspicious of Bell raising his toga to his head to think. When Hundert takes a recess to confer with the headmaster; he is urged to give Bell a pass, as Senator Bell is in attendance. But he then asks Bell a question not in the books, "Who was Hamilcar Barca?", knowing full well that the answer would not be on any materials used to cheat (it was not in the curriculum) but knowing that Mehta would be able to answer it because earlier in the year, Hundert had seen him reading material about Barca in his spare time. Bell is...
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