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An Education (2009)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Funny, clever, poignant, painful, and redemptive, An Education puts us in the position of a teenage British school girl finding direction in life. If being serious about life is important, where is the place for loving fine things in life like gourmet food, wonderful music, beautiful paintings, and the glories of a cosmopolitan city? How much time should a school girl spend on homework and building a résumé for college versus enjoying concerts, playing the cello, and singing along with jazz records? What does it mean to be serious about life, and what happens when enjoyment is not part of a serious life? When are we fully alive? These are the types of questions that An Education deftly asks. On the face of it, the film is a girl-comes-of-age story, but its period setting, its tensions, its cleverness, the plot’s primary false dichotomy of life choices, and its subtly played ending make it much more than that.

Most everything about the filmcraft in An Education is excellent, particularly the acting by leads Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. The dialog is intelligent and insightful, with variations in pace and tone that carry well the momentum of the girl’s struggles and development. The diversity of characters provides a rich base for touching questions from multiple sides. Some might say that plot turns are predictable, but this is only in the broadest sense. The film’s beauty is that its most important explorations are not in the primary plot but around it. An Education is well worth the time, but do be prepared to watch some painfully foolish choices on screen.

Jenny lives in Twickenham, 12 miles from central London. She loves literature and music and life. It’s 1961, and she’s in her last year at a British girls’ school, hoping to make it into university at Oxford. Jenny’s father and school, on the other hand, seem to conspire against her pursuit of joy in life. Then she meets David, an engaging, witty, polished, older man. He opens for her a new world of music and art and life that her father, thinking London to be too far to travel and her résumé-building for Oxford too important to sacrifice, would not show her. Torn between two realms of education, Jenny must make her way as best she can. Running time: 95 min.

At the center of An Education there is a romantic relationship between a teenage girl and a man of about thirty. There are no scenes with onscreen nudity or sexual acts (beyond kissing), though there are three scenes in which the two are lying together in a hotel room, talking of sexuality. Teens smoke and drink moderately and socially.

  • Director: Lone Scherfig
  • Screenplay: Nick Hornby based on memoir by Lynn Barber
  • Leads: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike
  • Cinematography: John de Borman
  • Music: Paul Englishby

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