An Education

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Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand

How different the world was in 1961. Life was innocent, families stayed together, and their kids could play in the street without worry of being abducted. Well, unless one defines “abductor” as a charming, 40 year-old “art dealer” who falls in love with your daughter at first sight and rescues her from the rain with his maroon sports car.

An Education centers around a 16 year-old English schoolgirl named Jenny (brilliantly embodied by Carey Mulligan), whose dreams hinge on her getting into Oxford for college. Her father, Jack (Alfred Molina), has impressed Oxford upon Jenny as being the single most important thing in her life – and she believes it. She’s happiest when she listens to French music and ponders life at university – where she can smoke, “read lots of books,” and “talk to lots of people who know about lots.”

Jenny’s plan changes when she meets David (the “abductor,” played by Peter Sarsgaard) through a chance encounter. Quickly falling under the spell of her dashing new suitor, her days become a whirlwind of social and romantic ecstasy. From schoolgirl to social butterfly in a matter of weeks, Jenny’s life is transformed to include classical concerts, art auctions and weekends in Paris.

I’ve seen better versions of this story before - 1992’s The Lover, and Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. Although both these films know they’re venturing into forbidden territory, as older men establish relationships with extremely young girls, there’s an undeniable yearning between the characters that makes you invested in the choices they make. I found no such investment in An Education. Here, we don’t feel a love blossoming, but we more or less watch each character continually make ill decisions to pursue what they covet: wealth and ease of existence (for Jenny), and (a very young) prize for David.

Jenny’s parents don’t bat an eye at the age of her new companion. Any qualms they have are quelled by a few drinks with David, where he charms them with wit and cheesy impersonations. He even promises to introduce their daughter to his buddy, C.S. Lewis, when they visit Oxford. It seems she has hit the perpetual jack-pot of male suitors, and no one seems more delighted than Jenny.

The intoxication of love and carefree life leads her astray from school, as her grades suffer and she loses the respect of teachers who have gotten wind of her escapades with an older man. Jenny tells one of her teachers that it’s not enough to educate women anymore – “You have to tell us why you’re doing it.” If she is able to achieve the life she dreamed of by simply being with David, why continue to study? She believes her choice is to do something “hard and boring” for the rest of her life, “or go to Paris, and have fun.”

As their relationship progresses (avoiding spoilers here), we discover that David may be less than meets the eye. How much of his life is he willing to disclose to his young Lolita, risking her disapproval? And how much of his daughter is Jack willing to lose so that she may live the fantastical life of which she dreams – the life he never got to have?

The heart of the movie lies in the scenes between Jack and Jenny. And there are some heart-breaking ones that are palpable. Jack apologizes to his daughter through a closed door for some not-so-perfect parenting in a gut-wrenching moment. He admits that all he has known is how to give his daughter “an education.”

This film asks how far you’re willing to go to gain what you want. When you’re young and impressionable, it’s difficult to decipher whether love and the promise of a good life is worth giving up your dreams for. It’s tough to tell whether the brilliant mind you’ve cultivated is worth more than a lifetime’s worth of concert tickets and expensive clothing.

This movie answers the questions it poses. It takes a look at just how easy it is to confuse dream with desire. Sometimes the education that matters most has nothing to do with learning Latin or mathematical equations; it’s the one heard by your father’s voice, behind closed doors.

-Hillary Smotherman

A well structured review there, but i do have some disagreements and things to nit pick from you !

I believe your wrongly drawing comparisons between Lolita and An Education. Yes, both movies involve a younger and older counterpart. But other then that, there aren't many similarities between the films. (Thus i don't think you can claim Lolita is the "better version" of A education)

Lolita is about lust, while An education is about a coming of age movie (rightfully noted by you). An education is about the consequences of youthful naivety, teenage rebellion, and the curiosity of life itself.

I also personally believe the "punch-line" is sometimes an education isn't learnt in the classroom and in books, but rather through life experiences and trials and errors.

You gave a pretty insightful review with some good analysis of your own interpretation of the film. A little too much plot summary, but overall a solid review !!