An Education (2009)

Director: Lone Scherfig
Screenwriter: Nick Hornby
Adapted from: An Education by Lynn Barber
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson
Nominations: Picture, Actress – Carey Mulligan, Adapted Screenplay

Being a teenager is easily one of the more difficult phases we go through in life.  No longer a child, not quite an adult—it’s almost a decade of knowing so much and yet knowing so little—we want to live our own lives but still need some guidance from our mentors, teachers, and parents.  The beauty of An Education is how it reflects the continuity of those emotions to today from 60 years ago.  Coming of age hasn’t changed and learning about life is still one of the hardest lessons we have to face.

Sixteen-year-old Jenny’s life is all about achieving the highest marks possible to ensure her acceptance into Oxford.  She goes to school, practices the cello, and studies.  But, being as book smart as she is, she’s fully aware of so much more in world.  Everything she has a personal interest in is just outside her grasp, really only a year away once she goes to university—but as those of us who’ve looked forward to something know that’s sure to be one long year.  Then a (possibly) chance encounter turns all that around: David, a smooth, charming, well-mannered older man (at least twice her age, probably more) takes an interest in her and finally introduces her to many of the places and things she’s eagerly awaited to experience.

However, as the film’s title says, Jenny receives an education beyond her schoolwork: about human nature, the intentions of others, the depths of depravity, the importance of true friendship, and so on.  Everything that she goes through with David comes down to her learning the importance of trust.  Even though she thinks she knows David, she’s gut punched with the realization that all of what he’s told her has been built upon deceptions.  Perhaps the only honest thing he tells her is how he earns his living—which is essentially forced “white flight,” a shady and despicable practice.  While her ability to trust has been fractured, she also recognizes that she, too, has breached the long-established trust she has had with her parents and her teachers.  It’s a recognition that is even more devastating for her than all of David’s lies and omissions.

Unlike David, though, Jenny is empathetic and capable of showing honest humility for her misdeeds.  David may have been older and more worldly, but Jenny is infinitely more mature, what with having to tell her parents the truth about David, then facing her teachers—on their turf, no less—to admit her mistakes and faults.  Three of the toughest words for many people to utter are “I was wrong,” and Jenny’s ability to not only say them but also mean them shows how well-rounded of a person she is.  She may have wronged those who truly cared for her (her parents and Ms. Stubbs, especially), but her not backing away—or driving off as David did—from the shame and embarrassment of admitting her errors shows us the courage and strength those people have instilled in her. 

Being a teenager is difficult, yes, but how many us look back at those years and realize how much of that difficulty was based off our own actions?  In retrospect, I would have probably done more than a few things differently during high school.  Not being able to do that, though, has me taking Jenny’s example as the next best thing and I try to make sure my parents and teachers (when I see them on the rare occasion) know how grateful I am for the informal life lessons they taught along the way.