Every once in a while, there comes along an example of creativity that makes you wish you’d never praised one other thing, since so many of the words you might choose in exaltation have been made less by being applied elsewhere. This is such a moment.

An Education is such a film.

There is nothing new here. A naïve high school girl dreams of a sophisticated life outside of the stifling realities that have been her world. She’s 16, smart enough to dream of Oxford and pretty enough to catch the eye of a grifter. She believes that smoke and mirrors are sophistication and reality. There’s a montage of Paris with dancing and wine and romantic music — even the obligatory nuns in habits — to underline the seduction of the Russian roulette that lovers have been playing since the Bible became a bestseller: sex at the possible price of your soul.

Talk of nuns though is enough to remind us that God is in the details. I want to say nothing more about this movie than if you have ever reacted to a painting because it was so perfectly composed as to make you feel the artist knew precisely why we were given eyes, you will understand why you must see this.

The actors with the most screen time (Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard) could retire with fully realized careers after doing this one film, but so-called supporting roles — the extraordinary portrayal by Alfred Molina and the tiny role that is Emma Thompson’s — would be reason enough not to miss it.

It is so simple a story, really, and so complicated a reality—one every single one of us knows. I guarantee you will think about your own education no matter where it took place and even expect you might weep over the gift of having lived long enough to see the tragedy of the ordinary change into the possibilities that have become the everyday. Yes, this adaptation of the virtuoso Nick Hornby’s novel (the screenplay is Hornby’s also) runs deep, but the surface of it is enough to remind you of being a girl even if you were nothing like this one and, even better, to offer you reasons to be grateful that you are a woman here and now.

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  • Morgan October 16, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Actually, only the screenplay is Hornby’s. The story itself is based on a memoir by Lynn Barber.

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