An Education Movie Review

an education“An Education” is a 2009 coming-of-age British film that made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival last year and received critical acclaim. The movie stars actors Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan, who was a nominee in the Best Actress category of the Academy Awards this past year.

I had a chance to recently watch “An Education.” What follows is my own review of this autobiographical memoir written by British author, Lynn Barber.

Like most high school seniors, the driving force behind all of Jenny Mellor’s actions is the dream of being accepted to her dream college: The University of Oxford. Jenny excels in all of her subjects, except Latin. Her father puts a lot of pressure on her to improve her Latin skills and earn a higher education so that she will do better than he did.

Jenny is smart, pretty, and popular, but her life is pretty boring. She dreams of going to Paris, attending concerts, and viewing fine works of art. However, this does not seem like it is in the cards for Jenny. Until she meets David.

David is an older man, twice as old as Jenny, to be exact, who shares Jenny’s passion for high culture. The two meet when Jenny is walking home from school in the rain, her cello getting soaked by the rain. David offers to give her cello a ride home in his expensive sports car; Jenny and the cello end up taking the ride.

Their relationship begins sweetly and innocently enough. Jenny’s parents also adore David and allow Jenny to go to Oxford with David to meet C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” whom David says is an old friend of his.

Things start to look suspicious when David and Jenny get to Oxford, but C.S. Lewis is not there. David never knew C.S. Lewis; he just used the lie to convince Jenny’s parents to let her join him on the weekend adventure.

Jenny ends up falling in love with David. Then David proposes to her and Jenny accepts his proposal, despite warnings from her teachers and mentor, Miss Stubbs. When Jenny’s headmistress tries to convince Jenny to stay in school and pursue her education, Jenny becomes frustrated and exclaims:

“Studying is hard and boring. Teaching is hard and boring. So, what you’re telling me is to be bored, and then bored, and finally bored again, but this time for the rest of my life? This whole stupid country is bored! There’s no life in it, or color, or fun! So my choice is to do something hard and boring, or to marry [David], and go to Paris and Rome and listen to jazz, and read, and eat good food in nice restaurants, and have fun! It’s not enough to educate us anymore Ms. Walters. You’ve got to tell us why you’re doing it.”

This is a wonderful movie and I absolutely loved it. “An Education” poses the question of the true worth of an education. Is it really just a boring way to spend your life, as Jenny says, or is it one of the best pursuits we can undertake? 

I highly recommend you rent this film this weekend, watch it, and decide for yourself.

One Response to “An Education Movie Review”

  1. George Nguyen says:

    The parents’ worst nightmare is perhaps their sixteen-year-old daughter falls for an older man whose purpose is something short-term.

    “An Education” is a movie sets in 1960s London and generally poses the question about why sacrificing all the fun in life pursuing something not remotely rewarding and in the end may not be as good. Carey Mulligan plays Jenny the 16-year-old school girl who enjoys fancy restaurants, classical concert, trip to Paris… basically everything a young girl would dream about growing up; all such luxuries come easily as Jenny starts a presumably romantic relationship with an older and rich man.

    Jenny’s quest to understand the meanings of education is universal. The audience would likely identify with the seemingly puzzling purpose of education: is it a means to an end or an end itself? The similar question would be: if you can honestly make plenty of money, why would you trouble with an education especially one from an established institution such as Oxford? Jenny speaks fluent French, learns Latin, recites perfectly Shakespeare… yet none of them seems matter if a lot of money suddenly becomes available. Her father quickly dismisses the idea of going to Oxford for an education and stresses that she will be “well taken care of” (by this older man).

    Jenny is beautiful, youthful, smart, witty, and somewhat bored; so she perhaps sees David (the older man) as an escape from having to deal with uninteresting homeworks, immature male friend, and moderately controlling parents. Her situation seems in tune with high school girls who have look and brains yet want to know the “dark” side.

    It is not uncommon, especially in Asian families living in the US, that getting an education is not for the sake of education but rather as a means to make a living; in fact, some have become good test takers as opposed to learning and studying to appreciate the human knowledge and to translate such knowledge into daily lives and more importantly to affect positively lives of others.

    The film is well-crafted in conversations especially ones lead by the father Jack (played by Alfred Moina) who is very opinionated on the purpose of education: so that, again, “[his daughter] will be taken care of”

    Can sufficient amount of education overcome the human nature of seeking power and control? “An Education” provides little if any comfort to such human dilemma; I don’t expect it too. I like the story simply because it may just be enough revive our commitment to education for the sake of education, something money can never buy.


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