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This week:
An Education

Filthy says:
"Get yourself an edumacation, pronto!"

An Education is one of those highly pedigreed movies from England that burnishes the Limeys' reputation as high-brow intellectuals who sit around in smoking jackets reading leather-bound copies of Sherlock Holmes and hunting foxes on their estates with cannons mounted to the roofs of their Mini Mokes. Movies like this give you the impression the Brits are a people whose idea of politics is having reasonable, free debate, and their porn consists of people in evening gowns giving smoldering glances while dancing to The Blue Danube. An Education could be a BBC After School Very Special about the importance of getting formally learned, with the terrifying alternative being going to jazz concerts and art auctions and not getting into Oxford. It could be, but it's not. Mainly because it's so fucking well done. Well done enough to blend its more nuanced parts with a pretty damn facile conclusion.

An Education takes place in 1961 suburban London, pre-swinging and post-war rebuilding, when England was still a relatively uptight and nervous place. Carey Mulligan plays a sixteen-year-old who knows her authors and artists and has opinions informed beyond her years. I think we are meant to confuse her book smarts and natural cleverness with wisdom, as she does, because later on the difference between knowing a lot of shit and understanding the value of that knowledge is critical. She's in an all-girl school where, sadly, there are no sexy pillow fights. She is, though, the one student for which her teacher wades through all the dimwits and their stories about ponies. She will be going to Oxford. For those of you who don't know, Oxford is the most prestigious university in England, and getting in is a big fucking deal. It's to other English universities the way Red Rocks Community College is to other Colorado junior colleges. Not to brag or anything, but I spent nearly two semesters at Red Rocks and later sat in on a few weeks of a class called "Female Sexual Politics" because I thought there'd be a lot of free-spirited lesbians in it. There wasn't: just fourteen other guys with the same idea as me. Decidedly unsexy.

The almost-always fantastic Alfred Molina plays Mulligan's stodgy father who has her on a straight line to university. No playing, no extraneous fun, just a lot of studying and participating in activities like youth orchestra that probably aren't fun but look good on your university application. He is focused on her having the security that comes with a good degree. He isn't as concerned about her actually having the good education or appreciating it, just the security that comes with it.

There you go, Mulligan is too smart for school, or at least thinks she is, and too smart for her father's restrictive plans. Along comes Peter Saarsgard, an older man (I guess late 20s, early thirties), with a superswank burgundy Bristol four-door and a sophisticated style that better represents who she wants to be than who she thinks she is. Saarsgard is so charming and sophisticated, apparently, that neither of Mulligan's parents question it when he starts taking her to concerts, jazz shows, art auctions and weekends in Paris and Oxford. Well, Mulligan isn't entirely honest about it. She's so enamored by his sophistication and the world he opens up to her that she abets him by ditching school and lying to her parents for him.

Saarsgard is also a morally bankrupt con man. He isn't above pilfering from the old or infirmed, and he makes a business of moving black people into uptight neighborhoods to cause the residents to sell to him cheap. Mulligan knows this is wrong, but her attraction to feeling like a sophisticated grownup makes her complicit in his wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, her schoolwork suffers. The teacher who adored her loses patience. Mulligan finds herself wondering what the point of an education is anyway, if all it leads to is a job teaching the next generation of girls, and not going to school means cocktail parties and dog tracks. Hell, Saarsgard even takes her to Oxford, and it seems like a much more fun place as a weekend getaway than as a place to study.

Molina and Mulligan's mother are okay with the creepy relationship because Saarsgard has money and class. If he has those, then Molina feels his daughter will be well taken care of and have no need for an Oxford education. But, in its most after-school-special-moment, An Education reveals Saarsgard is not what he seems. The revelation is not that he's really a multi-millionaire philanthropist. He's worse than he appears. I expected that reveal since the beginning of the movie, as I would think most audiences would. That it's no surprise blunts the sympathy I felt for Mulligan.

Yet, the point of An Education is not to surprise us, but to show that Mulligan could be shocked by something that seems so inevitable. While she may be book smart, have good taste and appreciate fine art, she is still a child. She is naive and falls in love too easily. One moment she is scolding her teachers and headmistress, but the next she's getting the most important education of all. It is the difference between being wise and simply thinking you are. Only experience teaches the difference, and that's what Mulligan learns.

Saarsgard and Mulligan are both very good in An Education. He is slippery and charming, not handsome, but worldly and knowledgeable, even when most of what he pretends to know is bullshit. Like a good con man, he's a master at putting his targets at ease. Mulligan is fantastic. She looks sixteen-trying-to-be-25, and underneath it she has the vulnerability of the teenager. She may make a convincing speech now and then, but it's really just a better quality of adolescent petulance.

The movie only loses its steam in a few places. First is that Saarsgard so easily seduces a sixteen-year-old without much resistance from anyone. I don't know 1961, but nowadays people wouldn't trust a man who wants to pop teen cherries, no matter his charm. Second is the movie's denouement, which ties up everything a little too neatly so that nothing is lost in the end. Mulligan gets her education, but I think it probably should have cost a bit more. Four Fingers for An Education. It's a pretty fucking terrific movie.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Mark S. Allen of CBS-CW

Dear John is "The most overwhelmingly romantic movie since The Notebook!!"

What the fuck does that even mean? Are romantic movie rated on their ability to overwhelm you?

Filthy's Reading
Joan Benny - Sunday Nights at Seven - The Jack Benny Story

Listening to
Sonic Youth - Dirty


Bart Got a Room (sucked)