Monday, 7 March 2011

Gaining An Education

One of the more pleasant things I am doing during my extended period of reflection is catching up on movies I’ve been meaning to see, but haven’t got around to. Today, I saw An Education, a stunning film, which spoke to me with added poignancy. I identified with both protagonists equally, for differing reasons. It also helps that I wish to bed Carey Mulligan, or at least her character in the movie (I wonder if such an admission would cause legal trouble?).

The plot to An Education is as follows:

In the early 1960's, sixteen year old Jenny Mellor lives with her parents in the London suburb of Twickenham. On her father's wishes, everything that Jenny does is in the sole pursuit of being accepted into Oxford, as he wants her to have a better life than he. Jenny is bright, pretty, hard working but also naturally gifted. The only problems her father may perceive in her life is her issue with learning Latin, and her dating a boy named Graham, who is nice but socially awkward. Jenny's life changes after she meets David Goldman, a man over twice her age. David goes out of his way to show Jenny and her family that his interest in her is not improper and that he wants solely to expose her to cultural activities which she enjoys. Jenny quickly gets accustomed to the life to which David and his constant companions, Danny and Helen, have shown her, and Jenny and David's relationship does move into becoming a romantic one. However, Jenny slowly learns more about David, and by association Danny and Helen, and specifically how they make their money. Jenny has to decide if what she learns about them and leading such a life is worth forgoing her plans of higher eduction at Oxford.

This plot, in large part, is taken from a memoir by English writer Lynn Barber. She embarked upon a relationship with an older man named Simon when she was 16. Without giving the plot away, it is fair to say that the end of the relationship was rather inevitable. As a follow up to the movie I read a fantastic article by Barber that gave a personal insights behind the well conceived plot points.

As with the movie, the last two paragraphs of the article both delighted and unnerved me, close to the bone as they were:

What did I get from Simon? An education - the thing my parents always wanted me to have. I learned a lot in my two years with Simon. I learned about expensive restaurants and luxury hotels and foreign travel, I learned about antiques and Bergman films and classical music. All this was useful when I went to Oxford - I could read a menu, I could recognise a fingerbowl, I could follow an opera, I was not a complete hick. But actually there was a much bigger bonus than that. My experience with Simon entirely cured my craving for sophistication. By the time I got to Oxford, I wanted nothing more than to meet kind, decent, straightforward boys my own age, no matter if they were gauche or virgins. I would marry one eventually and stay married all my life and for that, I suppose, I have Simon to thank.
 But there were other lessons Simon taught me that I regret learning. I learned not to trust people; I learned not to believe what they say but to watch what they do; I learned to suspect that anyone and everyone is capable of "living a lie". I came to believe that other people - even when you think you know them well - are ultimately unknowable. Learning all this was a good basis for my subsequent career as an interviewer, but not, I think, for life. It made me too wary, too cautious, too ungiving. I was damaged by my education.

That last paragraph in particular perfectly describes my emotional transition from childhood to becoming an adult. Innocence and niavity is lost. Optimism is replaced by pessimism. Nothing surprises an adult. To hurt is to grow. The scars always remain as a reminder of necessary mistakes. Chances taken, but ones that are forever damaging. You learn more from being ripped apart than being put back together.

I am behind the times. Like Jenny, many learn these lessons in the grip of adolescence but not I. Perhaps I have undergone all the physical transformations associated with this period a decade or so ago, but it has taken me until now to learn the emotional lessons that my contemporaries learned long ago. The reasons are many, but I’m only just getting my education now. I hope I am a good pupil.

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