Sunday, November 22, 2009
Nog Sees An Education!
On Oscar night, Meryl Streep is almost certainly going to take home another statue for her performance as Julia Child, but it's easy to imagine her singling out Carey Mulligan for some kind words during her acceptance speech. Mulligan is likely to be nominated for An Education, and she should be. There's no major histrionics in her performance, just a wonderfully wise-beyond-her-years sensibility and a graceful, radiant presence (critics keep referencing Audrey Hepburn). Mulligan's Jenny is 16, living a dull suburban life in 1961 London, interested in a life of "culture" but with no real access to it. Her father (Alfred Molina, pitch-perfect) sees to it that everything she does is perfectly structured with an eye toward advancement, which means heading off to Oxford. "We don't believe in concerts," she tells David (Peter Saarsgard), a dapper thirty-something fellow with a mysterious career who gives her a ride one rainy day and offers to take her to hear some classical music. They begin a relationship that seems only tangentially about sex, at least at first (she's waiting till she's seventeen, thank you very much, and he seems as turned on by introducing her to great art and music as he is by seducing her), and the film's light tone smooths over the inherent edginess of the subject matter (plus, it seems quite clear that these schoolgirl/older man relationships were not at all uncommon in the era). It's fairly clear to most everyone but Jenny that the relationship is ultimately doomed, but what she gets out of it (her "education") is worth the heartbreak. Paula Vogel describes her play How I Learned to Drive (which I'm currently teaching), as ultimately dealing with "the gifts we receive from those who hurt us," which holds true for this film as well.