William Hundert (Kevin Kline) is a passionate and principled Classics professor who is 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. It is here we are introduced to the party-minded Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg), the introverted Martin Blythe (Paul Dano), and the studious Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta), all of whom are incredibly intelligent. He inspires all of them 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 pits the top three students of his class in a contest where they will be asked questions regarding the Classics. Blythe also mentions proudly that his father was once a "Mr. Julius Caesar", as it is a prestigious title.
Hundert quickly gains the respect of his class and the school year starts very orderly. However Hundert finds his tightly-controlled world shaken and inexorably altered when a new student, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), walks into his classroom. Sedgewick Bell is the cocky son of a senior senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. Initially, a fierce battle of wills takes place 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 to a nearby prep school for girls. Despite Blythe's constant pleas to not break rules, Masoudi and even studious Mehta find themselves enjoying their rebellious tendencies with Bell. Despite this, Hundert is able to humiliate Bell when he asks the class to list, in chronological order, all the Roman emperors. All 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 Bell's father, the senior Senator...
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