A first-year law student at Harvard Law School struggles with balancing his coursework and his relationship with the daughter of his sternest professor.
Directed by James Bridges
Starring Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, John Houseman
Initial Review by Drew Landry
The Hart/Kingsfield dynamic was the film’s core part but there were other peripherals that need mentioned. One was the study group. Having been party to several study groups, they are beyond ridiculous. Despite that, a particular social, pecking order exists and watching the numbers of Hart’s study group dwindle was like watching a rock group break up. Always someone pushing too hard, acting too arrogant, or being too obnoxious for the other members to handle, consequently making the group of six or seven shrink to three. How beneficial was the group? That is hard to say. Anything beyond post hoc ergo propter hoc would be tough to reason and even that, in and of itself, is a fallacy.
Another peripheral dynamic was with his lady friend. They met in an unusual way and Hart could not shake the feeling she gave him. The way the actors interacted, however, was not exactly pure chemistry. Yes, viewers saw typical relationship problems but the portrayal was not on – screen magic so it was difficult to understand his feelings toward her.
It is important to mention aspects from Hart’s perspective but the film was not about Hart. It was about Kingsfield and his teaching style. Kingsfield ran the classroom in every way that it should be today; strict yet engaging, all the while holding his class to the highest of standards and treating his students with little regard.
The students even sought after his approval. They wanted to show off for him and hoped he praised their effort. While this method is somewhat arrogant, it motivated students to achieve. That style reminded me of two my most challenging professors. One was the legendary University of Evansville political science professor David Gugen. He was my Yoda and constantly challenged me. I needed his approval and the only way to get it was to work incredibly hard. Once attained, the onus rested on the student to stay at that level and it was a difficult but worthwhile task.
To me, Hart’s perspective on Kingsfield was relatable.
I am sure we all had that one teacher/professor who pushed us to the edge to learn. I emulate Gugen, and other influences, in my teaching style. The Paper Chase made me appreciate Gugen more than I did when I was a student. That may be its greatest success.
While it helped me remember my favorite professor, it was not the most fantastic film. Hart whined more than a melodramatic teen and the story in and of itself could be a complete overdramatic illustration of law schools. Those aspects kept it out of the A range. Its solid parts were obvious throughout the film. Definitely rewatchable.