In today’s society, we are conditioned to assume that any adult man offering a ride to a teenage girl is a predator. In An Education, it seems Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is not completely blind to those precautions when she is approached by David (Peter Sarsgaard) in his sports car. He explains that, as a music lover, he just wants to make sure her cello does not get damaged in the pouring rain, so he offers a ride for the instrument, trading cash as insurance, while she walks beside the car. Smooth. After less than a block of intelligent conversation about classical music, Jenny decides to get in the car and arrives safely at home minutes later. With that safe arrival comes a bond of trust, which can mean everything to a teenage girl. And when David just happens to run into Jenny again with an invitation to a classical concert, how can a girl say no?
The film is an adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name where she details her teenage love affair with a much older man. To really believe that David and Jenny will have some happily ever after is completely naive. This is not a cheap vampire fantasy. Yet, the film is so good at making this happy ending look tempting. David actually likes being with Jenny. He has a charm that makes us believe all his actions, including some self control. That only makes Jenny feel safer and let him go further.
Since Jenny is only sixteen, surely her parents could intervene and stop this relationship. Thing is, though they only have love and hope for their daughter, the parents are completely naive and unworldly. When they meet David, he puts on the charm, looks like a real gentleman and seems to only have decent, platonic intentions with their daughter. Within the first minutes of meeting them, David actually gets an extension on Jenny’s curfew. Surely he can talk dear old dad into letting him take Jenny to Paris.
As we watch this relationship continue, we can’t always do the tsk-tsk at Jenny. She is using David almost as much as he is using her. How else is a middle-class teenage girl going to get into these concerts, fine restaurants and see the a more cultured world. The boys her age are a bore and can barely make conversation over cheap coffee.
What is most detrimental to Jenny is the prospect that she can just marry David and forget about going to Oxford. The way she sees it, with prospects of a man to take her to all the high culture things she’d have to work for, what’s the point of school? Jenny only sees old, sad looking, unglamourous women who have received higher education, and what girl wants to end up like her tight-laced school teacher? Her parents are no help in this idea either, expressing financial relief to the idea of marriage instead of college. But what’s the cost of putting security in her future with David rather than pursuing an education?
This is one of those films that all young women should see. I try not to be too cynical, but rather than continue the asinine fantasy of Team Edward, we need to realize that if a man seems too good to be true, do not pursue. But if you do, as many girls have and will continue to do, appreciate the valuable education.
“You’re my father again now, are you? And what were you when you encouraged me to throw my life away? Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?”