The Emperor’s Club

Inciting Event: Unmotivated and rebellious student Sedgewick Ball arrives at the elite St. Benedict’s School for Boys and immediately proves himself a disruptive element in history teacher Mr. Hundert’s class. Sedgewick is the conflict. Hence, his arrival halfway through the First Act is the Inciting Event.

First Plot Point: Sedgewick convinces three other students to row across the forbidden lake to the girls’ school—where they are caught by the nuns. This isn’t a great First Plot Point, since it’s not a clear departure from the Normal World into the adventure world: it’s just an acceleration of Sedgewick’s bad behavior. But it is what prompts Mr. Hundert to start taking him in hand.

First Pinch Point: After Mr. Hundert speaks with Sedgewick’s senator father, Sedgewick gets bawled out by his obviously unsympathetic father—showing the demons that actually drive Sedgewick.

Midpoint: Sedgewick competes in the school’s prestigious Mr. Julius Caesar competition—and cheats. This is a dynamic Midpoint that sends the movie for a complete loop. Indeed, the revelation here is central to the story’s entire moral premise. Segdewick’s cheating was allowed by Mr. Hundert’s decision to allow him into the competition over a more worthy student, and his cheating his covered up by the school (and thus Mr. Hundert) because of his prestigious father.

Honestly, this scene is a bolt from the blue—which is both a good thing and a bad thing under the circumstances. It’s a good thing because it took what up to this point was a familiar, even clichéd storyline and turned into something completely unexpected and interesting. It’s not so good because it (and particularly the whirlwind events to follow) were poorly set up in the beginning. Not only does the poor set-up cause the second half of the movie to feel less than seamless, it also means the first half of the movie never gets to benefit from the story’s greatest hook. (In fact, I nearly turned the movie off at the halfway point. Because it had been so predictable and formulaic up to that point, I mistakenly expected more of the same in the second half.)

Second Pinch Point: We have lots of turning points happening rapid-fire in the Second Half of the Second Act: Sedgewick graduates without ever having pulled himself together; Mr. Hundert’s long-coveted head mastership is given to a more “forward-thinking” colleague and he unhappily retires; and twenty-five years later, a now successful Sedgewick requests that Mr. Hundert moderate a rematch of the Mr. Julius Caesar competition so that he can “regain his intellectual honor.”

None of these are a particularly great pinch point. The one that carries the most oomph is Mr. Hundert’s retirement, but it’s the one that affects the plot the least. The most pertinent one is Sedgewick’s ignominious graduation, but it’s brushed over so quickly, it’s barely a plot point.

Third Plot Point: During the Mr. Julius Caesar rematch, Mr. Hundert realizes Sedgewick is, once again, cheating. Sedgewick then goes on to use the class reunion as a platform to announce his political candidacy. Although the plot in general is poorly setup, this is a really nice Third Plot Point. It’s unexpected, and it hits Mr. Hundert exactly where it’s calculated to hurt the most.

Climax: Mr. Hundert confronts (always the key word in Climaxes) Sedgewick about his cheating. Sedgewick shrugs him off. Both characters are given the opportunity to showcase their divergent viewpoints.

Climactic Moment: The Climactic Moment is a bit difficult to spot here—a sure sign of a muddy conflict. But I’m going to go with Sedgewick’s son’s overhearing Sedgewick’s admission of cheating, since it is the official cap on the Hundert/Sedgewick conflict.

Resolution: Mr. Hundert is given a plaque by the rest of his successful and honorable alumni. He returns to teaching, believing it is worthwhile despite his failure with Sedgewick.

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