the fresh films reviews

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Higher Learning (1995)

John Singleton



Higher Learning - lære for livet

128 minutes

John Singleton
Paul Hall
John Singleton

Cast includes:

Malik Williams Omar Epps ½
Kristen Connor Kristy Swanson
Remy Michael Rapaport
Fudge Ice Cube
Professor Phipps Laurence Fishburne ½
Taryn Jennifer Connelly ½
Deja Tyra Banks ½



John Singleton ups the ante with Higher Learning, an ambitious film with a complex narrative structure that incites big questions without giving any definitive answers. This is Singleton's third feature, after his Oscar nominated Boyz N the Hood from 1991, and Poetic Justice from 1993. And as with those two films, Higher Learning is rooted in the black communities of South Central Los Angeles, although in here the perspective and scope is widened. Racial issues, homophobia, social classes, and peer pressure are weaved in and discussed as we follow three highly different freshmen at a fictional university, played by Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, and Michael Rapaport, and the challenges they face trying to find both themselves and their place in these new surroundings. Our instructor for keeping it all in check is the idealistic, assured Professor Phipps (Laurence Fishburne) who wants his students to rise above the social backgrounds and prejudices in which they have been raised. He's the almost messiahlike guiding light that Singleton wants his characters (and us) to listen to and follow in order to save themselves. But they are pulled in different directions by powerful forces which they, according to Singleton, probably aren't strong enough to stand up against on their own. The film is explosive in nature, but through its constant focus on people, the material is given humanity and weightiness despite its insurgent quality.

Singleton gets brilliant performances from his actors. Michael Rapaport, who after smaller parts in films such as True Romance and Singleton's own Poetic Justice, really rises to the challenge as Remy, a young guy whose insecurity and lack of social skills make him an easy target for neo-nazi groups. And an almost as powerful performance comes from Fishburne, whose Professor Phipps in many ways builds on his character from Boyz N the Hood. With a diverse campus as a metaphor for society as a whole, Higher Learning claims that our greatest lesson in life is to learn how to live together despite our differences. And although Singleton stops at nothing to get this message across, it's hard to argue with the emotions he stirs up and the points he's making.

Copyright © 5.6.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
(English version: © 06.04.2021 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang)