Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Education: Please go see it

I just watched "An Education" and had to quickly sign in to encourage all of you to see it when and if you can. Obviously, in our little market here, it likely won't be in theaters unless it receives lots of attention at the Oscars. But A) it's worth the drive to the Twin Cities, and B) it most definitely will receive such attention at the Oscars, so maybe we'll get lucky in a couple of months.

Carey Mulligan delivers a breathtaking performance as a 16-year-old private school student, Jenny, in a small town in England in the 1960s. She is well on her way to Oxford if she can get her Latin skills up to par. Jenny is bright and witty, and she's mature beyond her years.

Jenny is picked up while waiting for a bus in the rain by Peter Sarsgaard (who I have adored for years), who plays David, a handsome and seemingly wealthy man in his late 20s or early 30s. We're never sure of David's interest in Jenny. She's young and inexperienced in all of the ways that David isn't. But as he seduces her and even her parents, we're taken along as well -- to jazz clubs, to Paris, on weekend trips to Oxford. We're hesitant to root for the relationship, because Jenny is so young and naive, but part of the brilliance of this film is that the audience is inevitably seduced by David also. We want her to indulge and forget herself. We want to believe that he is the man he seems to be and that she is ready, even at her young age, for all she is experiencing.

As Jenny becomes tangled up in David's life, skipping her final exams and believing that he is her most promising future, she demands to know from the headmistress at her school why she shouldn't make the decision to live her life to the fullest now. What is an education for, she asks. To work hard and to be bored the rest of her life? In the 1960s, a woman's choices for work were limited. She could work at a school or do civil service. The headmistress and her favorite teacher don't have answers, which only makes David seem more appealing.

So much is written between the lines: 1960s sexual politics, the parental roles in guiding a teenager's future, the ease of love to blind us to reality, the prison marriage could be to a woman 40 years ago. The true beauty of "An Education," however, is that nothing is black and white. No characters are bad guys or good guys. No choices made are right or wrong. The film shows us the gray areas of all of Jenny's decisions and also of our own.

"An Education" is one of the best coming of age movies I have ever seen. And if Carey Mulligan doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll be writing the Academy a firmly worded note.

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