It was Never Let Me Go that made me want to see An Education; I kind of fell in love with Carey Mulligan in that movie. An Education was one of her first starring roles, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award and won a BAFTA- and she deserves the recognition. The story, based on Lynn Barber's memoir, is about a young girl, Jenny (Mulligan), a smart girl with ambition trying to get into Oxford. One day she meets David (Sarsgaard), an older man who charms his way into her life and ingratiates himself with her parents. They start to see each other, but as they get closer little cracks appear. He has a glamorous life with posh friends and a carefree existence and everything's just jolly, as long as Jenny doesn't ask too many questions.
It's hard to think about what, if anything, I didn't like. The focus is definitely on character- on Jenny and her choices and how she makes them. It's about the little moments when we doubt the person we love, and the ways we rationalize and compartmentalize and push those doubts aside, until we can't any longer. It's about the way the world seems to conspire to deceive us, the way others hold their breath when they should speak, about betrayals large and small- and ultimately, about how the responsibility for our lives lies with us alone.
Despite that the focus is largely on a romance, An Education also strikes me as a film about women. Jenny's world largely consists of other women and it seems time and again that the women around her- her mother, her friends, her teachers, David's friend Helen- are the ones who see the most and do the most, whether it's showing her the ropes or holding out a lifeline. There's a moment near then end when Jenny makes an announcement to her parents and her mother says "Is it too late?" meaning is she pregnant, and her father breezes right past as if she'd meant something completely different, something benign. It's women who let her down, and later, it's a woman who's there to save her.
An Education is a terrific, engrossing, moving character study and well worth a watch.