I have to stop listening to people.
Well, at least about stuff like this. They are similar in that they involve a popular teacher at a private boys school in the East. That's it. Dead Poets Society is a better movie, sure, but it's not a better movie about teaching. In fact, while dramatic and provocative for an audience, my initial reaction as I type here is that it is fairly banal compared to The Emperor's Club. DPS is content to settle for a pretty basic "Be Yourself--Be a Free Thinker--Be Free" refrain, and while Robin Williams' character is the hub around which the film revolves, the story is much more focused on the boys and their perspectives. Not so The Emperor's Club, which stays much closer to the teacher, and is willing to launch itself into the very real moral ambiguities of a teacher's choices with regards to their pupils. Dead Poets Society stayed in much safer territory, really, where the "rightness" of Williams' character was clear to the audience, and that he was only tragically misunderstood by the rigid, authoritarian, conservative, [your favourite slur here] "establishment" that "just didn't get it." The Emperor's Club avoided such clear reductions into black and white. Kevin Kline's character--a man of outstanding character--makes some choices that I as a teacher can see to be very questionable. And that I might have made, too. This is a movie, then, that leaves you a bit more unsettled, but if you've a taste for reality, might in the long run be more satisfying.
There are now four movies that I go to when I think about what it means for me to teach, and to which I can return to provoke myself into further meditation on the art. I highly recommend all of them, particularly if you are a teacher, want to be one, or want to understand one who is in your life. They are (in order of importance to me):
1. The Man Without A Face--Mel Gibson's impressive directoral debut and the best of the lot: why we teach.
2. Finding Forrester--More about the "mentoring" side of things, rather than formal teaching. Highlights the two-way street the relationship can develop.
3. The Emperor's Club--The ambiguity a teacher lives in, and the question of what is really the criterion of success.
4. Dead Poets Society--The teacher's ability to transmit passion and insight--to be a vehicle for inspiration.
Hmm. I'm trying to remember if I've forgotten something. There's a lesson in futility for you....