Thursday, March 6, 2014
Throwback Thursday: An Education
I really shouldn't start a feature, because as seen in the past, I've been terrible at keeping them up, but I've had this one milling over in my head quite a bit over the past few months. Anyway, the simple premise of "Throwback Thursday" is not to share cute photos of myself frolicking in fields with horses when I was five and putting them on Instagram with the dubious #tbt. Instead, it is to kinda...look back on films that aren't all that talked about any more. But mostly, films that I once loved upon release (or if I delve into classic films, probably the films that had a huge influence on me a child) and how I feel about them now that I've had some distance and am re-evaluating them. Or it could just be random movies I just watched that aren't in IMDb's top 250 or every best of list of all time.
Whatever, it's mostly just films that were not made in the past couple of years. Even though half of you are probably saying that now the Oscars are over, films like Philomena are irrelevant. Because that's generally how awards season works. But that's another post.
Anyway, the subject of this week's throwback is Lone Scherfig's An Education, which, after three years (and I used to watch this all the time), I finally gave another watch. Mainly because every time I used to watch this film, I wanted to bury my head in books and study, and last night, I needed some motivation to jam my dome full of knowledge about Indian independence.
Instead, I found myself ruminating over things like: a) why do we not talk about this film more? b) what happened to Carey Mulligan? c) what happened to Peter Sarsgaard? d) why is Rosamund Pike not a huge star? and e) FEMINISM.
A great deal of what I like about An Education comes from the fact that it occurs in the right part of my life. From when I first saw it back in 2010, I was in the throes of the big "what am I going to do with my life?!" question, and it's been that way since. I've been working hard, like Jenny, to attain my grades, to be the perfect candidate to be the first choice for everything. And now I'm at university, because it feels like the right choice in order to live a successful life and all that stuff.
But what struck me as quite interesting about the film this time around was the really interesting issues with feminism and the right of a female and all of that kind of stuff. That's mostly because I've been reading way too much about the issues of females in film, but An Education tells quite an interesting story.
The predicament that Jenny is presented with is this: she works her ass off to get an education at Oxford University, or she marries David and lives happily ever after as a housewife. Of course, the latter option is a trope that feminists will denounce, and we do seem to be a little past this 1960s way of thinking, but Jenny feels as if she'll have a lot more fun not "dying" in the education system. Until she finds out that David screwed her over, and she has to revert back to her old plans of going to university.
The most interesting character in this film is not Jenny herself, but her father. Her father who begins the film by demanding that Jenny leading a perfect life so she can get into Oxford: getting top marks in everything, having an "interest or hobby" mostly as a convenience to make herself sound more interesting at her Oxford interview, forcing her to participate in the Youth Orchestra in order to make herself look like a "participant". When she doesn't do so well in Latin (despite her best efforts), private tuition is suggested - but her father doesn't want to do that, because his entire existence revolves around money, to the point that it is far more important than Jenny's education. Then David comes into the equation, who, at first, Jenny's father is somewhat reluctant to let Jenny hang out with because it will interfere with her study. And as David's considerable charm and commitment to Jenny are revealed, her father's dreams of her daughter being an Oxford girl drip away. To the point that once David proposes marriage, her father seems quite happy to have his daughter married off because David has her covered with money.
And this kind of thing is age old. You either have someone to provide for you, or you get an education - which may not wind you up with a job anyway (I should know, I'm doing exactly this with my Arts degree). So limiting. Such oppression. But also, Jenny herself has the predicament of whether she should go to Oxford and not have any fun, or live life while she's at it with David.
That's what is the true beauty of this film: such a simple story, with simple storytelling, but it tackles such a big issue. Not the kind of biopic/historic/struggles of the world "big issue", but a big issue which I've found particularly troublesome over the past few years. While times may have changed a little bit since the 1960s, it's still such a timely film, especially since the apparent necessity for an education at any cost seems to be at an all time peak.
But, to the other questions: the careers of those in the film. Carey Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar for this, which was quite an inspired choice. Without her, this film wouldn't work at all. The strange thing is that she was so perfect for this role she is almost impossible to fit anywhere else. Sure, she's great in films like Never Let Me Go, Drive, Shame, Inside Llewyn Davis and The Great Gatsby, but in each of those she either feels miscast or underused. Jenny is a lot to live up to. Carey does seem to be a versatile actress, but no one has found the right way to utilise her just yet. Peter Sarsgaard was also perfect in this film, and has done very little since, apart from a really creepy turn in the otherwise ineffective Lovelace and a brief spot in Blue Jasmine. And Rosamund Pike should have been nominated for all of the awards for her performance as the ditsy, airheaded Helen in this movie. Just the things she says in this movie. And how she truly believes the stuff she's saying. Jenny is way too smart to be like her. Alas, Pike has Gone Girl coming up this year, which should be all kinds of exciting.
So yes, I would say that I'm quite a fan of An Education, still. I don't know where I'll stand on it in a few years when I'm out of the education system, but for now, it is so blisteringly relevant it continues to scare me.