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.


  1. Pop Quiz: What was the first film ever reviewed on The Matineecast?

    During that discussion, Lindsay - who else would be my first guest? - actually pulled focus to Rosamund Pike. She pointed to her as one of the most fascinating characters in the film because of what she represents. As Jenny is wading into the waters of her relationship with David, she is actually accompanied by a beacon in the form of Helen. In her, she has a shining example of a woman who is classy, and pretty, but not as smart as she is. She has eschewed any ambitions she might have had, and instead hitched her star to Danny.

    That comes with certain comforts and luxuries, but also comes with a great deal of constraint. The question we are left to ponder as Jenny carries out this intense and chic affair of hers, is if she'll notice who Helen is and understand what it will mean for her.

    Rosamund Pike embodies all of that so damned well, and you're right - I haven't the foggiest clue why she isn't a bigger star. As for Carey Mulligan, I wouldn't worry about her just yet. She's done so much in such a short time, and despite certain constraints has almost always managed to leave an impression.

    This film remains one of my favorites of the last five years, and the year it dropped it ranked as number 2 for me behind only THE HURT LOCKER. Maybe your post will inspire a few people to revisit it - or perhaps even visit it for the first time.

    1. Wow - the Matineecast has been going for a very long time indeed!

      Helen is such an interesting character - just the way she puts up with everything that Danny goes off to do and just learns to flutter her eyelids at everything is fascinating to watch. Pike was perfect in that role, and I really hope that Gone Girl gives her a sort of boost (I haven't read the novel so I don't know what kind of part she'll have, but it looks high profile).

      This is definitely one of my favourites of the past five years, it has a pretty solid place in my top 30 of all time. Hopefully it does inspire a few people to give it another viewing, it is such a great film!

  2. One of my favorite movies of 2009 :) You should watch Barney's Version if you haven't seen it yet. I was really impressed with Rosamund Pike's performance in it.

    1. I have seen that one! About two years ago. I really really liked it, and she was so great in it too.

  3. Great write up! I loved An Education too. But where the hell has Carey Mulligan been? She was such a breakout in this.

    1. She's been like, everywhere, but nowhere at the same time, if you get where I'm coming from?

  4. Great piece! I really love this film and definitely feel it's due a re-watch soon.
    I think you completely nailed the problem with Mulligan's career here, she's done so much high-profile stuff but just gets underused every time, which is a shame as she's incredibly talented.

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