Last night I watched An Education – a 2009 film starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. The film is directed by Lone Scherfig with a screenplay by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch). This film is a coming-of-age story, an initiation story in which the character or the protagonist goes through an experience that will make him or her a different person afterward. Carey Mulligan plays the role of Jenny, a 16 year old school girl who is on the run to prepare to enter Oxford University and Peter Sarsgaard plays the role of David Goldman, a middle-aged man who charms Jenny.
Since I don’t want to let you off with some spoilers, you can read the summary of this film here.
The beauty of the movie lies on the fact that it is very subtle and seamless in terms of movement – scene after scene you would be guaranteed of that feeling of increasing interest, such that you would always root for ‘what will happen next.’ (I, for one thing, felt anxious that Mulligan’s character will be ‘Sarsgaarded’ anytime soon, haha!). Good thing about the movie is that I never felt any hint of midmovie blues.
A particular concept that summarizes the film is the concept of initiation story that I came across with in many various literature classes. An initiation story is so called when the protagonist goes through a particular experience that’s new and fresh – this so called “rite initiatique” will ultimately lead him or her to never look at life in the same way again. This concept, most often than not, is associated with the loss of innocence brought about by that life-changing experience which profits the protagonist a sense of maturity, a different perspective on how to view life.
In German, this kind of technique is referred to as Bildungsroman which is associated with words “formation” and “education” (and this perhaps accounts for the reason for such film title) – you can also view a complicated, excruciating and significant experience as ‘an education’ of some sort that will incite the protagonist to view life differently. This reformation of character, a personality change, occurs among adolescents – for instance, in the movie, to the 16-year old Jenny. Or simply put, it’s the kind of concept that leads to transform a girl into a woman, or a boy into a man.
In literature, initiation stories usually result to a moment of epiphany – but I couldn’t see any ‘sudden impact’ being channeled from the part of the protagonist Jenny to us movie viewers. Perhaps, the plot of the movie calls for it to impose a revelation in an external way (when Jenny found out that David Goldman is married through stacks of envelopes) – so the audience is robbed away of the opportunity to vicariously explore the pathos.
The only thing that feels lacking in the film (at least, in my own point of view), concerns the character of Peter Sarsgaard who plays the character of David who romantically pursues Jenny. I don’t know if the absence of closure between David and Jenny works but I felt a certain kind of discomfort knowing that David’s character just vanished out of sight. I don’t know how other people sees this, but after I watched this film, I can’t help but ask myself, “And what happened to Sarsgaard?”
All in all, the movie was great and I highly recommend it with a rating of 8 buckets of popcorn and 8 cans of soda.