Turn Back the Clock


Higher Learning

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            There are movies created solely for the purpose of entertaining the masses.  Everyone will agree that movies are a credible source of entertainment, but movies that provide a source of education as well as entertainment add that much more to the medium.  A movie with an educational message that you truly believe in is one that will stay with you for years to come.  Such is the case with the John Singleton film called Higher Learning.

            The movie begins with three freshmen beginning their first year of college at Columbia University.  The anticipation of each of these young people is that one can start fresh in this school - everything is new and the slate is clean.  What these students learn is that college is really not much different from the rest of the world.  Stereotypes are still present, people still run in cliques and acceptance is not a given.

            Malik (Omar Epps) was a high school track star now attending Columbia on an athletic scholarship.  His dream is to achieve greatness on the field while earning a decent education.  He just wants an equal shot at a higher education, but all he seems to be doing is struggling.  Focusing on his own struggles, he believes that he is fighting harder for his education due to his skin color.  Malik doesnít really know the struggles of his fellow students, but he perceives that the white students are having an easier time of things.

            Kristen (Kristy Swanson) comes to Columbia as a naÔve young woman looking to reinvent herself.  But a desire to fit in leads to a night of drinking and partying which turns her life upside down.  No longer the naÔve little freshman, Kristen struggles with the aftermath of rape and doubts about life in general.

            Remy (Michael Rapaport) left a harsh life in Idaho in search of a new beginning at Columbia University.  Unfortunately, the awkward and socially inept young man.  One unfortunate encounter after another causes Remy to hate his new life at college until Scott brings him into his fold.  Desperate to feel like he belongs somewhere, Remy takes to White Supremacy with a gusto, but years of frustration, anger and despair boil over, changing the lives of Kristy, Malik and their fellow classmates forever.

            While the performances of Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Jennifer Connelly, Ice Cube, Jason Wiles, Regina King and Cole Hauser were all engaging, two actorsí performances really stood out in this film.  I had forgotten that Michael Rapaport was in this film until I watched it recently.  Other than Higher Learning, I had only seen Rapaportís comedic side, but his performance as an angst-ridden, misunderstood college freshman whose insecurities lead to a very harsh lesson in the necessity of tolerance and acceptance was nothing short of amazing.  Perhaps the reason why I had forgotten that Rapaport was in Higher Learning is his complete transformation into the character of Remy - I simply didnít recognize him.  The other outstanding performance belongs to Laurence Fishburne, who portrays political science professor Maurice Phipps.  The cool and cultured Professor Phipps urges his students to refuse to follow the crowd like sheep and use their college experience to learn how to think for themselves. 

            It should be noted that Tyra Banks makes her film debut in this movie as Malikís girlfriend, a fellow track athlete with a solid head on her shoulders and a good outlook on life.  Tyraís character, as well as that of Laurence Fishburne, has a profound influence on Malikís growth as a man.

            However, the performances are not what make this movie so important to our culture.  It is the movie itself.  There is no one particular scene that makes this movie stand out, but rather each scene woven together as a whole, providing a social commentary about the world we live in and the things that separate us, holding us back as a society.

            There is, however, one moment in Higher Learning that will stay with me forever.  It takes place in the last few seconds of the film, just prior to the rolling of the credits.  One seven-letter word appears on the screen: U N L E A R N.  This one word sums up the entire meaning of the film.   We must unlearn the stereotypes we have been brought up believing in (while watching the film, see if you can spot all of the stereotypes touched upon by John Singleton).  We must unlearn the fear and hate of the unknown.  We must unlearn the things that keep us from coming together as a society formed through tolerance and acceptance.  U N L E A R N - such a small word used to convey such a powerful message that will stay with you long after you have seen the movie.  So check out Higher Learning - you may come back all the wiser for having seen it.

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