Tags: Great | Ambition

Great Ambition

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:00 AM

It didn't receive any big kudos from box-office-goers this weekend. Between Bond babes, a rapper's mileage and a sorcerer's sequel, it came nowhere near the top of the box-office weekend gross. It also showed on only 809 screens nationwide. Finishing seventh in total revenue, it finished fifth in the average per screen, but just wait until the word of mouth catches up to it.

Of course I'm talking about the new Kevin Kline movie, "The Emperor's Club."

As I sat through the sneak preview with my son last week here in Chicago, I was moved by this important message that I believe EVERY FATHER AND SON IN AMERICA MUST SEE! It certainly sparked some great conversation between us on the way home.

In the movie Kline's character delivers a most significant line: "Great ambition without contribution is without significance!"

Morality, a sense of purpose larger than one's own agenda, and using any means necessary to reach their own goals: These are just some of the issues that the characters weigh and juggle throughout this extremely pleasurable film-going experience.

It made me pause to consider two things:

We all have small ambitions that we seek to accomplish regularly. Get a raise, get married, have a child, buy a home – these are common ambitions and, for life to go on, most necessary at that.

But what about "Great Ambition"? Is there something that each of us can point to that generations beyond us will esteem as the pivotal moment when our lives turned?

Some would say that for President Bush it is "to rid the planet of terrorism." If he indeed is successful, this will have been one of the most worthy 'Great Ambitions' ever set out to be achieved.

For those of us who aren't president, though, what is our Great Ambition? I am wrestling with trying to write this because as I think about my own, I have trouble articulating it.

For Kevin Kline's character the ambition is obvious: to impact those young minds in his classroom who will be that next generation of leaders. As they progress and reunite some 30 years later, he realizes that in some cases he succeeded and in one case in particular failed miserably.

If ambition is to attempt something valiantly, then in this case perhaps contribution should be described as what is actually accomplished. (And I'm not referring to the superficial plane)

How many times do fathers and husbands today set out to achieve an ambition that says "I will provide the life for my family that I can," only to forget the family part of it at some point along the way and, in a needless fling, be ready to throw everything away that he previously had valued so greatly.

He may have had incredible ambition, but he made no lasting contribution to the ones he named as the reason to begin with.

Miss America Erika Harold is another example that comes to mind. In Erika's case her contribution has been clear – long before her ambition of winning the Miss America title ever became a reality.

But now that she has achieved becoming Miss America, her ability to strengthen the contribution she was already making is only underscored. Kids have even more of a reason to listen to her and believe her when she speaks of the good of abstinence before marriage. Society has more reasons to listen to her when she speaks first hand about the issue of violence prevention.

For Kline's character it becomes painfully obvious that he fails one of his key pupils, a pupil whose father's idea of shaping his character was to threaten him into submission. Later that father's fruit comes full circle as the pupil, now in his mid-forties, proves he has not only not learned any lessons about the shaping of character – but he also unknowingly displays them before his son.

The unstated is obvious: Character matters now more than ever.

If we are to be citizens who decide we want a world that is different from the one we see swirling down the toilet in front of us, then it must be those who are willing to use their 'Great Ambition' to achieve a character-based 'Contribution' who must change it.

It is painfully evident that the lack of character in the pursuit of our own goals and dreams has left a scorched earth behind it of broken families, lives and children. When Great Ambition ceases to be the end, then the end will be a better and brighter one – not only for those who choose to live it out, but also for the many who follow in their footsteps.

So, in a day when college football fans riot because of big wins or controversial endings, in a day when 500 are injured because zealots marched through an area hosting a beauty pageant, in a day when a doctor who is charged with safeguarding lives uses scissors to smash a little one's brains to pieces while still in the process of being born – yes, in days like these character counts!

It's just too bad that it seems so rare.

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It didn't receive any big kudos from box-office-goers this weekend. Between Bond babes, a rapper's mileage and a sorcerer's sequel, it came nowhere near the top of the box-office weekend gross. It also showed on only 809 screens nationwide. Finishing seventh in total...
Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:00 AM
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