Art-House Film of the Month : An Education – Un Certain Regard
“There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” The words of the 2nd President of the United-States resonate quite well with this film by Danish director Lone Scherfig, adapted from the memoir written by journalist Lynn Barber. An Education is about a young girl facing a complex (although not that complex to her) choice between two drastically different ways of growing into an accomplished adult. And the film precisely raises the deep question of what is the most important one, or at least which one leaves its mark on us most : school itself or the school of life ?
This is what Jenny (played by the wonderful Carey Mulligan) is soon about to learn. A 16-year-old high school girl, very smart and bright only child of a middle-class family, she is preparing her admission to Oxford University in the 1960s London suburb of Twickenham while fantasizing about Paris and French literature and music. Her very serious and well-ordered existence will take a complete U-turn when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming and laid-back man twice his age but that will leave an impression on her like no one else has done before.
Little by little, Jenny will see her school results decrease, to the greatest displeasure of her literature teacher who feels a great affection for her; but the attraction of a life of culture, parties, jazz concerts and fun with David and his friends Danny and Helen as she envisioned it is by far more appealing to her. And although the Prince Charming (in appearance) also manages to seduce her parents at first, the rebellious spirit of their brilliant little girl soon leaves them distraught. Jenny even makes it to Paris, where she visits and falls in love with the city, just as much as the man who took her there.
Craving a grown-up life, a fancy living made of adventures and beautiful outfits, the teenager already sees herself as a woman and is in a rush to become a real adult when it means freeing herself from conventions and the conservatism of the boring England that she thinks she cannot stand anymore.
But when all the pleasure and euphoria of this new life fades away and Jenny discovers a whole new part of David, thanks to the help of David’s friend himself, the perfect romance suddenly takes a bitter aftertaste. Even though both parts of the couple in a way took advantage of each other – Jenny to escape her tedious quiet life and experience what she had always dreamed of, and David to satisfy his sick desire of seducing younger girls to leave them high and dry a little after they fall for him – the latter seems to win the battle as Jenny, disillusioned and lost, learns the hard way that not everyone can be trusted.
However An Education still manages to finish in a happy ending, and is a wonderful tale of something that is evocative to every human being as we have all, at some point in our life, learnt a lot through the “school of life” and asked ourselves the question: is classical education or “raw” experience, that is the people we meet, the travels we make, the things we endure, the best way to grow into the best and most faithful version of ourselves ? As the film turns out, and as it is in life, the answer is certainly : a mixture of both.