Grant Mitchell

Society dictated in some decades past that in order to succeed and receive positions in managerial or other general upper-level roles, one must have a high propensity to learn — at least that’s what everyone will have you think.

Now, in order to have even a foot in the door for most white-collar jobs, you have to at least have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. If you want to be promoted to management or climb the corporate chain, better have a grad-school degree as well.

The point is that there’s a clear tether shared between higher education and higher wages and roles in the business world.

In 1973’s “The Paper Chase,” that and many other ideas of encouraged education, loss of identity and true professional and educational motivations are explored with a first-year law student in Harvard’s prestigious law school.

In this film, we find James T. Hart attending the acclaimed and historic school while surrounded by peers of the upper levels of the academic world. His professor is the crusty old Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., a well-respected but difficult professor to work with and learn from.

It is while watching James T. Hart taking the professor’s contract law course that we — or at least myself as a college student — felt the heat and pressure begin to build up in what is a hard class with a hard professor.

Watching the students wriggle under the pressure the professor puts on them with him poking and prodding with pointed questions where there is no margin for error is difficult. Err on the side of caution and you’re called out for it, stay neutral and you’re told that isn’t an option, go for broke and risk failure. These are the collegiate classroom settings all of us dread and have nightmares of.

Overall, “The Paper Chase” can at times be a disinteresting character study of law students struggling to find out who they are, what they want and why they’re even in school, but that same source of possible boredom and disinterest is also where the heart of this film is.

Pardon me for sounding a bit hypocritical and oxymoronic, but I really love the doubt we see from these law students.

Let me clarify, it can grow cumbersome and boring watching some of the characters eek and groan their way through college, but on the main view where the film shows the collective struggle and identity crisis is when the film is truly marvelous.

The film is marvelous because it depicts the struggle and interest shifts and questions of degree and career choices so well on such a large scale.

For myself, I am on my third major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and I am not the only person in my friend group who has changed their major.

In fact, I care to wager that if you ask most students at UTK, you will find that they have changed their major or college at least one time.

That is the crux of education and identity while a college student. You are constantly at odds with yourself and the courses you are taking because you aren’t sure quite what you want to do.

Couple that with the immense amount of funds it now takes to attend basically any college, and you’re setting yourself up for one heck of an expensive existential crisis.

I’m of course joking when I say that, but only partly.

That is what makes “The Paper Case” a truly unique film — its accurate depiction of some of the struggles college students feel when trying to pull their life and career ideas together while studying to become very specific things.

College is a battleground of conformity and following of curriculum, butting heads against humanity and the constant shifting of headspace and ideologies that come with it.

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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