Doe-eyed Jenny (Carey Mulligan) plays an impressive balancing act of high school girl and sophisticated adult as she constantly keeps us wondering where it's all going. David (Peter Sarsgaard) plays the creep stupendously and we don't know whether to love him or hate him for his engrossing performance.
An Education is based on the memoir of Lynn Barber, according to her affair with Jewish con artist, Simon Prewalski. The film is directed by Lone Schrefig from a screenplay, written by Nick Hornby and is set in 1961, England.
Jenny is a sixteen-year-old, cello-playing schoolgirl who lives in suburban London and has ambitions toward Oxford University. She wants much more than adolescence has to offer and is superior in many ways to her classmates. Marvellously witty and intelligent, Jenny, daydreams alone in her room while singing along to Juliette Greco. She imagines a life of sophistication; an adult experience. One where she speaks French, smokes, dresses in couture fashion and lives the charmed life of someone who has far outgrown her teenage peers. Her father and school teacher both greatly encourage her towards keeping Oxford a goal as it is clear she holds great promise with a determination to match.
Jenny's real education begins when her cello is offered a ride home by a charmingly mysterious older gentleman, David, who comes out of nowhere and insists on protecting her beloved instrument from the rain via his fancy automobile. Jenny is cautious at first, if only charmed in an amused sort of way by said music-lover's strange manner of pick-up. Soon it becomes obvious this rather old guy is courting her, and she introduces him to her conservative parents.
Hey mum and dad. This is my boyfriend. He's dad's age. That's cool with you guys, right?
David's questionable intentions really come into view when he begins to distract her from her educational values by fulfilling her desire for a sophisticated life in the most cunning of romantic pursuits.
"What? You haven't slept with him yet?"... "Hehe, no. I'm 16! I'm going to wait a couple of weeks till I'm 17. Then the virgin ship will well and truly sail."... "Aww, good for you, honey!"
Jenny had been unstoppable in pursuing her dreams for an Oxford education until "love" came along and turned her world into one of chaos and confusion, veiled in beauty and glamour. She realises soon enough that David's rich lifestyle is afforded only by some shady practices but unfortunately all is quickly forgiven when he does what he does best: deceive. The corruption of her dreams is the price she pays for her infatuation with him and the audience can only hope she will quickly come to her senses, despite her youthful dreams of having everything she ever wanted.
During this era, feminists encouraged young women to stick to their education, instead of falling back on a husband for financial security, if they had a hope of being seen as equals; this is the rock and hard place Jenny finds herself caught between. As the audience, we may think, "Jenny don't go there!" We may put ourselves in her shoes and wonder if we would do things differently. We may even be reminded of our own youthful dreams as we planned our lives in accordance to our alter-egos, only to realise that experience is everything and that dreams amount to nothing without it. Our young experiences are what shape us as adults and the most important lessons often go hand in hand with the more difficult choices.