"Higher Learning had the potential to be a really great movie portraying college life, identity crisis, and social conflict during one's freshman year at a university. Director John Singleton assembled a talented cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Omar Epps, Kristi Swanson, Jennifer Connelly, Ice Cube, Tyra Banks and Michael Rappaport. Unfortunately, Higher Learning does not live up to its potential.
Why doesn't Higher Learning live it up to its promise? Because John Singleton couldn't decide on what kind of movie he wanted to make. The first hour of Higher Learning is the movie's strong point. Here we watch students arrive for their first day on campus, move in, decorate their walls, and adjust to life away from home. Anyone who has ever lived in a dormitory can relate to this experience. It is also during the first hour where Singleton brings up issues relating to racial conflict, sexual assault, money problems, alienation, and the struggles of balancing school work with a job and social life - all issues that anyone attending a college or university must contend with.
However, Singleton loses focuses in the second half of the film. What began as a fairly decent social drama quickly descends into an adrenaline-pumping action film/thriller. While the film remains engaging throughout the second half, you can't help but feel that Higher Learning is essentially two different movies.
Here is what would have made higher learning a top notch film. First, add an extra hour of movie time. A truly insightful drama regarding the complexities of college life needs to be three hours in length. Second, scrap the whole Malik vs. Remy subplot and instead focus on the character development of each man and each's adjustment to university life. Third, what the hell ever happened to Krista in the second half of the film? Her character goes from being one of the key elements during the first half of the film, but then she becomes only a minor player in the second half. Krista clearly came from an affluent white area of southern California, while her black roommate came from an entirely different social world. The film hints that both were stunned at first at the prospect of being each other's roommate. I would have liked to have seen Singleton devote time to develop the transformation of the two girls' relationship to that of close friends.
Singleton's best film remains Boyz N The Hood. It would have been nice to see Singleton take Higher Learning more seriously and treat the film as a serious social drama on college life, like he did regarding gang violence with Boyz N The Hood. Having criticized the movie, however, I must admit that I do like Higher Learning and could personally relate to a lot of the subject matter contained in the film. During my junior year of college, a white supremacist organization had announced its plans to appear on campus in March to protest its opposition to a specific, unspecified group of people. Tensions mounted on campus, and fear circulated among students as to who might be the targeted group (Blacks? Latinos? Asians? Gays?). Like Higher Learning, a multicultural festival was hastily commissioned by the university to provide an illusion of campus unity.
As a male, I can't speak with much authority on date rape and sexual assault on campus. However, there certainly is a racial/ethnic divide that exists on America's campuses as evidenced by the rise in hate-based activities over the past decade. In the two universities that I have attended, the student population consists primarily of white students who come from either suburban middle-class or rural backgrounds, and a smaller number of blacks and Latinos who come from Philadelphia. For many students, college is the first time they have any real contact with people who are unlike themselves. This can, and often does, result in escalating tensions and cultural clash...such as what is depicted within higher learning."
Intelligent insight into college life
Mr. B. G. Fowler | 07/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'Higher Learning' is one of those rare college movies that actually has a lot to say and doesn't come across as pompous, schmaltzy or boring. It focuses on several students from different backgrounds who have all come to Columbus university with different expectations of what uni life will be like. First of all there's Epps, a scholar who has to use his spare time on the track to fund his tuition fees and who gradually finds himself involved in a race war on campus. There's also Swanson as a pretty white girl who, after being date raped, finds herself palling up with Connelly, the college feminist and a lesbian. However, perhaps the most powerful performance of all comes from Rapaport as a lonely kid who finds himself falling in with some neo-Nazis.The emphasis here seems to be on the conflict between wanting to be your own person but still craving conformity and acceptance from others. The racial friction is handled with a sensitivity and intelligence which unfortunately seems abnormal in many films, not just teen ones. It's also a mercy that such stunning actors were given the roles, with both Epps and Rappoport bringing real sympathy to their roles. This is some feat considering Rappoport becomes a neo-Nazi towards the end. The fact that the director shows such sensitivity to such obnoxious characters speaks volumes of the quality of the movie.If there's any quibbles it's over the stereotyping of Connelly's role, as it comes over that her lesbianity must breed a hatred towards men. This is something that Connelly should not be given, as she is an incredible actress in her own right. Apart from that though, this really is a very good film indeed that will really make you care for its characters, especially because even their most heinous actions are shown to have a reason. This is the thinking teen movie, and actually quite unnerving too."
The reason for the over-exageration of problems on a campus.
Mr. B. G. Fowler | 01/08/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was a good movie because it shows the many problems that a new college student has. The college as a whole seemed to be shown as a microcosm of society as a whole and tried to represent many different cultures in society. It touches on racism from both sides and also touches on individual's struggles to combat racism. The exageration of each social conflict helps to depict a message to the public of what could happen to society as a whole if changes and strides to lessen racism are not made. It also shows that things will not change over night, but it will be a gradual struggle to re-educate the public into the idea of the necessity of having a nation without racism and that all men and women should be treated the same. Another point in the movie is to show how students both white and black are put into an environent in which they are uncomfortable can easily be swayed into believing many different things. They become so influintial that they start to do things they know are wrong , but because they are excepted in that group they do not realize the wrongs they are comitting. Which shows that you should except somebody even though they are different because you never know what difference you could make in being nice to one person. So overall I think this movie, though hard to bare and a little on the hateful side, gives a good message for the good of society as a whole and entertains you throughout the intirity of the movie."
A powerful piece of work
36_crazyfarts | Qld, Australia | 03/10/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Higher Learning" stumbles upon many issues, the most emphasised being racism. At first, I thought this movie was one of those teen movies where they put in some cheap (immature) laughs here and there but it's a movie that really grows on you as it progresses and you may actually start to feel for some of the characters. I kind of got the same feeling as I did when I watched "American History X". Both films suck you in right till the end and then hit you with one big punch.The DVD is nothing to rant about, it does have a trailer, a commentary track and some talent profiles. Nothing fancy but better than a kick in the pants. I have yet to watch the film while the commentary is playing. I'm not sure if I should because I believe the film can be interpreted in many different ways and I don't want anyone changing it for me."
H. L. is mediocre because it lacks what it intends-diversity
Mr. B. G. Fowler | 01/08/1999
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Higher Learning's best feature is that it serves to make the public aware of the worst manifestations of racism, homophobia and sexism. One of the films flaws is that it fails to show the diversity which the plot and characterization of the storyline seems to promise; by stating 'lack of true diversity' one expands in saying that the film only shows extreme versions of the various ideologies. The film is a collection of high strung psychos and lunatics ranging from the man-hating lesbian feminist to the militant, weed-smoking, black panther to the ultra-violent, third reich, "the apocalypse is upon us" believing, neo-nazi. The only truly realistic character is the Jewish roommate of Reme. In saying that the characters are unrealistic, one is not saying that their bigotry is not realistic, but rather that the rest of their character is not developed in areas besides their quest for the vindication of their respective extremist group. In one's opinion, for a character to be fully developed, and thus realistic, he/she must having no overriding principle in his/her life, he/she must have various channels of expression, he/she must be diverse in his/her collection of social aquaintances, and he/she must actively express various opinions on various subjects not related to his/her predominant role in the movie. In light of this understanding, one concludes that not all characters in the movie will be fully developed because of their time on screen, but those with significant time on screen should be developed. While one feels that this movie served to accomplish the basic social goal of public realization of diversity problems on college campuses, due to the fact that the various groups were limited to extremist groups and the characters were not developed, but rather spoke only on the diversity bigotry which they had, one concludes that this film is mediocre - accomplishing its basic goal of public awareness, and failing as believable because of its lack of depth in its characters (rather caricatures), and lack of diversity in its various groups, both which are important points in such a movie."