I've been feeling overwhelmed with some personal things lately, so that's why I'm not posting much. But I did want to tell you about a movie Michael and I saw this afternoon. Michael has been wanting to see this for about a month, but I was only moderately interested. I was wrong. The movie totally blew me away.
An Education is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in England during the early 1960s. Sixteen-year-old Jenny, who is bright and pretty, is enrolled in a girl's school and is being pushed hard by her lower-middle-class parents to excel so that she can pass the exams needed to be admitted to Oxford. At the beginning of the movie, she is excelling at this task, but she finds the work boring. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Jenny doubts whether education will really produce the life she wants; careers for women were still quite limited in the early 1960s, and she has little interest in teaching or civil service, the options presented to her. Jenny dreams of a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan life, a dream that seems to come true when a 30-something playboy enters her life. However, the education he gives her is not what she anticipates.
Just reading a summary of the plot in no way prepared me for how intensely the movie would affect me. Although I didn't have anything remotely like the romantic experience of the character in the movie, I identified with her in so many other ways that at times watching the story (which is based on the memoir of a British writer) was almost painful for me.
Like the character in the movie, I grew up knowing from early childhood that I was expected to be the first of our family to gain a college education . . . but my family had little concept of how to really help me achieve that or what a difficult transition they were actually pushing me to make.
Like the parents in the movie, mine pressured me to work hard to make sure that I would earn that education myself.
Like the character in the movie, I knew that my family saw education as a means to a practical end--a more prosperous living--but I had something else in mind. In addition to wanting knowledge for its own sake, I was like Jenny in wanting a life of culture for myself: art, music, fine dining, and the experience of going to Paris. No one in my family had any experience of such things, nor did they value them, but I craved them with a passion that never abated. (And this was in spite of the fact that for all of my twenties and part of my thirties, I felt like a white trash imposter every time I found myself in one of the cultural situations I craved.)
And like the parents in the movie, mine failed to parent me in significant ways (although in very different ways than the movie portrayed).
This film had intense personal significance for me, but even without that, I think it's well worth seeing. The performances are quite superb. Carey Mulligan, the actress who plays the lead, does an especially brilliant job. The script does a good job of making each of the characters complex and nuanced (with the possible exception of the headmistress). At the end, the father (played by Alfred Molina) explains himself in a way that added so much depth to the whole story and helps the audience to understand and sympathize with him, despite his mistakes.
In fact, the main character in this movie is failed by every adult in her life except one. Jenny herself is not blameless; she makes several bad choices of her own. The results very nearly ruin her. However, the movie does not end there. I will leave it to you to find out the details.
This movie is still in limited release. I hope it's at a theater near you because I strongly recommend it.