The main themes in the movie, The Paper Chase, pertain to issues surrounding morality and ethics, or in some cases, a lack thereof. The movie illustrates a conflict between the maintenance of a strong work ethic, and the maintenance of meaningful relationships. It also shows the willingness of people to betray each other in favor of their own personal advancement. However, the importance of independent thoughts and values is expressed towards the conclusion of the movie.
Throughout most of the movie, Hart is conflicted between his struggle to maintain good grades in law school, and a higher placement on the economic ladder, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, who provides him with a much needed perspective on life, opposite of the law school mentality. Throughout much of the movie, Hart puts his academic life ahead of his girlfriend, as is shown when he attempts to postpone a visit with Susan in order to do research for Professor Kingsfield. However, as the movie progresses, Hart begins to understand the importance of individuality, and begins to have a stronger sense of value in his friendships and relationships.
The movie, The Paper Chase, illustrates the perspective of people’s willingness to backstab each other in order to maintain and raise their spot on the economic ladder. This piece of human nature is depicted by the eventual collapse of the study group in which Hart is a part of. As the semester progresses, the members of the group begin to look out more for their own personal gain than the benefit of the group as a whole. They become reluctant to share information, as they absorb the competitive nature that exists within the school.
Towards the end of the movie, Hart begins to realize the flaws of the competitive, conformist, mentality that exists within law school, and the importance of independent thought and emotion. This realization is fully made when Hart confronts Professor Kingsfield before the final exam. Hart tells Professor Kingsfield that he learned a lot from him and his class, and Professor Kingsfield responds by asking him his name. The fact that after the entire semester, Professor Kingsley couldn’t even remember his student’s name exemplifies the lack of connection between members of the institution, and proves the absence of individuality and the “every man for himself’ mentality that exists within the institution. At the end, Hart acknowledges that his views have changed, when he throws the envelope containing his grades into the ocean, signaling that he was an individual and the ways of life that exist in law school, such as the competition, and lack of individuality, were not important to him anymore.
Based on the reasons above, The Paper Chase contains many themes surrounding ethics and morality. It shows how some people will do what ever the have to, good or evil, for their own personal gain. However, the movie illustrates the fact that we must think as individuals, or live empty, superficial lives.