As I sat down to watch the film ‘An Education’, and as the first scenes rolled on to the screen, it’s funny: my first thought went to my cinematographer, Tony. We had an extensive discussion about my graduation project some time ago, and I still remember him describing his favourite style to me, in terms of colour. He had used ‘In Bruges’ as an example, and it was a good one, because it crystalised in my mind what he had in his mind. When it comes to making my own films, for my part, I have an idea about the look I may want, but I always appreciate his input, because he, being a cinematographer, can give a more precise, more detailed, and more accurate description of what he thinks can work for a film. Eventually, for my own film, we didn’t go down that route completely, primarily because the desired film stock we wanted was, ironically enough, out of stock in the whole of Korea.
A few weeks ago, he emailed me from China, recommending me to check out ‘An Education’ and ‘500 Days of Summer’.
I figured that the film’s look would have been totally up his street, and I was right. ‘An Education’ follows a young Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), a 16 year-old girl on the cusp of…I’m tempted to say greatness, for she seems rather more educated than her peers. Her parents are pushing her onwards and upwards to Oxford, strongly encouraging her to improve her Latin. Jenny also has a deep interest in classical music, and it is on the way home from a practice session in school that she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard). Being the charming bugger that he is, he soon finds his way into her heart, her family’s heart, and her life. He takes her around everywhere, even to Paris, and completely charms her off her feet. In the mean time, she starts to lose interest in her schooling; while she would have been at the top of her class most of the time (with only Latin being the big pain in her butt), now her papers would be peppered with red marks. Things becomes more interesting when their relationship develops to the next level, and David asks her to marry him. What, then, will she do?
The film looks at a number of different aspects. First of all, I read a common divergence that occurs in real life. Young people up and down this country and the next all have had to make such decisions in the past, and will consider to do so in the future: are you willing to take shortcuts to get to what you want? There was a time in the past when I felt a similar inclination, and taking the easy way out is what people are tempted to do all the time. ‘An Education’, then, looks at how a young lady, who is on top form in her class, chooses for her future. Jenny obviously has high ambitions of going further than she ever had, even more so than her parents. She wants to be able to attend auctions for insanely expensive art pieces, she wants to enjoy nights out at the West End, she wants to go to Paris with her beloved. In short, it is the desire for the trappings of the upper-class luxury that was most tempting in the end. I thought that the decisions (and its consequences) are fairly well played out. This I give credit for to the screenwriter, Nick Hornby, and the director, Lone Scherfig (who practically came out of nowhere to direct the ass off this film. Of course, Denmark isn’t exactly ‘nowhere’, but I’ve never heard of her before this, despite her relatively extensive work in the Danish film industry. She was, however, credited with the creation of the characters for ‘Red Road’, a British film that’s…difficult to watch at times, but is incredibly rewarding by the end, with great characters. That is what we have here.) (that was a longer ‘in brackets’ part than I had expected. 🙂 )
Of course, characters in themselves are not that much without the actors to play them out. I am pleasantly surprised at Carey Mulligan’s performance. Hers is not an easy character to play or to direct: she has to portray enough innocence and naivity at the start of the film, having somewhat idealised ideas about life and love, before being drawn towards the dark side (if I may use that analogy). The process is a slow one, a gradual one, and the more difficult one is to be able to be strong by the end of the film, to be emboldened and to show that her experience has changed her in a way. There was one scene near the end (though I loath kind of giving things away in this blog, but I hope this doesn’t give away too much), when she, broken and emotionally embittered, had to stand up against her parents, to be somewhat reduced to a child and yet to be in a position to credibly admonish her parents for letting her fall. It was so adult, and yet the reaction of blaming someone else is a childish one. It’s brilliant stuff, I think. This was perhaps the money shot with regards to her acting, and if I may be permitted to be somewhat selective, the corn she earned grew in the second half of the film.
I thought that Peter Sarsgaard was also very effective. I think he’s a very understated actor, and he’s built up a rather nice little resume. I thought that he might have bagged a nomination somewhere for this, because for some reason, beyond an obvious few I didn’t really see a number of stand out performances in the supporting field. It’s pleasant to see him on screen, as it was to see Alfred Molina as well (Doc Ock with British accent. Blimey. 🙂 ). I also liked Rosamund Pike’s ditzy performance as one of David’s friends, who had a better comic timing than I thought she had. She was quite funny. Somehow, though, I feel it’s unfair just to pick out a few, because to be honest, each character had their own roles to fulfill, their own purpose within the story. Jenny’s mother, for example, could have been what the vision of what Jenny could be if she didn’t get to university. Her teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams), whose concern for her was a ray of light for her, but she could also be a vision of a future Jenny, one who did go to university but did not find a spouse at the same time (which seems to be the main purpose of her father encouraging her to go to university).
It’s interesting, though, that the film tells the story as it does the way it did. Academic excellence is a desire of many parents and students throughout the world, but such excellence is merely a tool towards a particular goal of being rich, of being affluent, of being cultured. It’s not all that different in Malaysia or Korea, either (which was recently listed as one of the most materialistic societies in the world). The aim of being cultured is to be able to enjoy the riches of the upper class. And yet what if there is a particular short cut to this dream? I feel that this is the main crux, if we look at it from a wider context. The education hinted at within the film is one of a young girl’s education of life, but it could easily be looked at in a wider context.
Perhaps an indicator of how far we have come, by way of our own life educations, is during the scene when Jenny asks David about the negroes he deals with. The one grated with me, and it made me realise how far we have come from the 1960s. Thanks, guys.
A well-rounded story, fully-realised characters performed by superb actors, with solid dialogue and even some bits humour, that is not difficult to relate to.
What else could you want in a film, really?
Fikri feels a little peckish for kebabs.