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An Education (2009)
A Bittersweet look at that most magical and painful rite of passage: First Love
An Education is a beautifully written, wonderfully acted and charmingly directed, bitter sweet look at first love. Beginning in the early 1960s, in London, this is the story of 16-year old schoolgirl, Jenny Mellor.
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a relatable and likable girl, who is also slightly pretentious and snobby and thinks herself more witty and cultured than she actually is. Living with a father desperate not to fall back down the social scale he fought so hard to climb, Jenny has been told her whole life that she is to go to Oxford and "make something of herself". As most teenagers feel, Jenny feels trapped and bored. Her life, to her at least, consists only of school, exams, endless study and awkward interactions with the opposite sex. She wants to see Paris, experience fine dining and go to museums and concerts with worldly and sophisticated people. Then one day, she meets a man who gives her all that.
30-something David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) is like a fantasy come to life. Indeed, we feel Jenny falls in love with his lifestyle and world as much as with him. David is played so well and written so subtly, that you find him utterly charming and can see why Jenny is so enthralled by him. Her parents, used to boring suburbia and a life revolved around their brighter and more talented daughter, are equally seduced by David. They turn a blind eye to anything improper in the hope he will eventually marry her. This is a Britain before feminism. "There may well have been the odd sixth-form girl who has lost an important part of herself while under our supervision. If, however, we are made aware of that loss, then of course the young lady in question would have to continue her studies elsewhere" warns Jenny's headmistress (Emma Thompson in a scene stealing departure from the norm as a racist, cold villain). The choice is clear: Romance or Oxford. Seeing what choice Jenny will make is unexpectedly compelling and you will genuinely care what will happen to her.
The period detail is amazing. 60s England is brought to life with constant smoking, West Indian Immigrants referred to as "Negroes", unscrupulous landlords and mild Anti-Semitism. It is fascinating to watch a society on the cusp of huge social change. The film brings this to life so evocatively. The script is like a novel.The Characters are so well rounded and the dialogue so elegant and eloquent, it makes would -be writes, such as myself, simultaneously filled with both pleasure and jealousy.
The sexual aspect of Jenny and David's relationship is handled tastefully and sensitively. Never once does it feel vulgar or exploitative. The acting across the board is excellent. You feel you are watching real people, not actors, which is what great acting is meant to do. Danish director Lone Scherfig brings a real charm and precision to the story. The movie goes by smoothly, never feeling rushed or under developed.
All in all, an excellent movie. It reminds me of having a meal and a conversation with good friends. It starts off charming and pleasant but becomes something deeper and more important, whose momentum and depth will stay with you for a long time.
A Terrifying Realistic Portrayal of Everyday Life
The thing that struck me most after watching this was how eerily normal it all was. Not Ian Brady (Sean Harris) His behaviour screamed dangerous individual. But everything else. This drama depicts so well the minute details of everyday, boring life. The conversations, the slang, the setting just reminded me of people i knew and places I've been. It made the eventual reveal of the crimes all the more effective.
It reminds you this can happen anywhere and be anyone you know. The show has great attention to detail and 1960s Working class England is brought to life amazingly well. You feel like you are actually there. The houses and streets are grim and so are the people and their life's: Teenagers married with babies, young men struck on the dole, violent men ignored and semi accepted by everyone. It doesn't strike me as a time of innocence shattered by the Moor Murders but a time full of narrow-mindedness with a simmering undercurrent of brutality.
The cast all play their roles fantastically and the script is excellent. No character is completely sympathetic and no character (with the exception of Brady) is one dimensional . Even Hindley, in a controversial move is portrayed as someone who loves her sister fiercely and is capable of compassion for her niece and dogs. All in all, an excellent sensitive, realistic portrayal of the banality of evil and the extraordinary aspects of normality .
Death smiles on us all...
...all a man can do is smile back.In a way that line sums up this movie.On the surface it comes across as a simple action thriller... and it is, in many ways. The dialog is stilted,the story unoriginal,the character's archetypes, the political commentary unsubtle and the ending predictable.But what transcends this film is the undercurrent themes of hope, despair and loneliness.
For example, the film's villain Commodus at first seems like your typical villain but Phoenix shows us a lonely,scared,love-starved boy capable of kindness and worthy of our empathy.In his scenes with his sister Lucilla the two actors lift it away from just being about incest to a study of a relationship of poignant dependency.
Lucilla half hates her brother -and deep down he knows this- but he overlooks this because he desperately needs her.
Lucilla too is a lost soul, revealed in a line to Maximus:''I have felt alone all my life,except with you.''
The film says one crucial thing about human nature-our capacity for enjoying the pain of others. We are watching people watching people die. And we enjoy the death and violence as much as the Romans did. But the film's ending offer's some-perhaps unattainable-hope and is, in a odd way an affirmation of life.
What Gladiator doe's best is bring to life a world now lost. If I ever go to the Colosseum in Rome, I will not now see the rows of empty seats but hope,terror,hatred,cruelty, small kindness,desperate courage,and even heroism..in short.. all Humanity.