Film / An Education

A 2009 British coming of age drama film, set in 1961 London.

Sixteen-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is attending school, preparing for her A-levels and hoping to go to Oxford. One day, she meets an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), who charms her into a romance, distracting from her schoolwork. David introduces her to a whole new world out of her little suburb—a world of nightclubs, auctions for beautiful paintings, racing, and romance. Jenny soon has to make a choice between the academic world she's always prepared for—and the world of fun.

But little does she know how much David is hiding...

This film provides examples of:

  • All That Glitters: Nearing the climax of the film, Jenny chooses to take the easy way out by dropping out of school and marrying David. However, it is revealed that David is already married, and he runs out on Jenny when she finds out.
  • Ascended Fangirl: When David takes Jenny to Paris.
  • Beneath the Mask
  • Beta Couple: Helen and Danny.
  • Bittersweet Ending/Earn Your Happy Ending: David turns out to be a lying scumbag, and Jenny finds herself without her test results and without an admittance letter to Oxford. She chooses to work hard to get there despite it all, gets accepted, and moves on to what looks like a pleasant and accomplished life.
  • Brainy Brunette Jenny is a genuine smart cookie. This is a contrast to Dumb Blonde Helen.
  • Break the Cutie
  • Bumbling Dad: Just a tad bit.
  • Butt-Monkey: Graham, whom Jenny's father refers to as a "wandering Jew" (whether he's actually a Jew is beside the point). Overlaps with The Woobie.
  • Bridal Carry: David and Jenny shortly before she gives him her virginity.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: The discussions of Jane Eyre in Jenny's English class.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • David's letters in the glove compartment of his car are shown several times before it's importance is revealed.
    • David helps out a black family move into an apartment. Jenny sees an old woman looking out of the window. Both are plot-relevant.
  • The Charmer/Chivalrous Pervert: David has signs of both.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Contrived Coincidence: Jenny meeting David. Not so much when it's revealed he actually lives down the street from her.
  • Dance of Romance: David and Jenny waltzing in the street and later in Paris.
  • Did Not Get the Girl
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Graham.
  • Double Entendre: When Jenny expresses an interest in seeing France, David replies that he'd love to take her, and there's "so much" he wants her to see. Cue Danny and Helen exchanging an uncomfortable glance.
  • Dumb Blonde: Helen.
  • Education Papa: Jenny's dad. He approves of Jenny's intentions of going to Oxford, and he pressures her even more to study and work on her dream. Ideally, she should be only studying and improving her Latin, and as far as music goes, her playing the violin is just fine, none of the French modern music nonsense! He simply doesn't want her to be distracted by anything inappropriate. However, he's also fairly kind and understanding, and Jenny's mom knows how to influence him.
  • Ephebophile: Jenny is only 16 when David takes an interest in her. Even creepier, it seems that he pursues her not just because he's a deviant, but because he knows at her young age, she'll be naive and foolish enough to never question or doubt anything he says or does, as demonstrated by how quickly she buys his and Danny's feeble explanation for their thievery.
  • Escapism
  • Everybody Knew Already: Rather, they didn't even try to keep it a secret. Seriously, when your headmistress knows not only that you are planning on losing your virginity, but when, to whom, and roughly where, you are doing something very wrong.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Jenny wears her hair in sophisticated updos when she's with David and his friends, but goes back to her usual girlish hairstyle both when she's at home or at school, and once she discovers his deception and the relationship ends, representing the fact that for all her attempts at seeming grown-up, that she is still really a child.
  • Foreshadowing: Frequent discussion of Jane Eyre in Jenny's English class. Mr. Rochester was keeping his wife a secret as well.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Within roughly weeks (if not months), David pops the question to Jenny.
  • Gratuitous French: Used often by Jenny, out of the blue and lampshaded bluntly by Helen:
    Helen: You have a French conversation teacher? Is that why you suddenly speak French? For no reason?
  • Green-Eyed Monster: David claims Danny is this when he doesn't seem too pleased by Jenny's engagement to David; Danny just didn't want Jenny to get hurt because both Helen and he knew that David was already married.
  • Hard-Work Montage
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Even after learning of David's shady business, Jenny continues to be strung along by David until the climax. Her father also, as he admits that he heard something that should have tipped him off to the fact that David wasn't completely honest, but he chose to ignore it, having himself been so drawn in by David's flashy lifestyle.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Jenny is attracted to David and his adventurous life, full of concerts, jazz music, and parties, in comparison to her apparent "boring" life, full of attending school, studying for Oxford, and reading Latin.
  • Ironic Echo: Of sorts. David takes Jenny to Paris, a place she has always wanted to go to, as she loves French books, films, and music. At the end of the film, Jenny's boyfriend said he wants to take her to Paris, and Jenny narrates that she acted surprised, as if she had never been there before.
  • Jewish and Nerdy/Nice Jewish Boy: Graham. That is, if he's really Jewish.
  • Karma Houdini: David, though a Deleted Scene in which he encounters Jenny at Oxford shows that his thieving ways finally caught up with him and that he spent some time in prison
  • Leitmotif: A recurring theme played throughout the film plays hints to David and his schemes.
  • Left the Background Music On: Whenever a French song plays in the background, it's most likely this.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: David is a gender-flipped version for Jenny. Later deconstructed, when it turns out that David is not all that he seems.
  • Moment Killer: The banana.
  • Mood Whiplash: Several scenes. Often, whenever the music changes tone is a hint to David's shady schemes.
  • Motive Decay: An in-universe example. Jenny wants to attend Oxford so that she can study and read English. After being exposed to David and his much more attractive life (and at the approval of her parents), Jenny gives this up to marry David, as he can already give her the life she has always wanted. This decision comes back to bite her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Jenny discovers that David is a married man, she is devastated, as she dropped out of school and didn't take her A-levels, to be with him.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The segment that the trailer showed of Emma Thompson's character made her seem like a rather stern but not unkind mentor—"You must think I'm a ruined woman." "Oh, no. You're not a woman." Not so in the actual movie.
  • Old Maid: Miss Stubbs. And Jenny rubs her face in it.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: While Jenny and Danny are dancing, they have a discussion about art. Or at least, this is what Jenny thinks. Danny is really subtly warning Jenny that David isn't what he seems.
  • Overprotective Dad: Jenny's dad obviously dislikes Jenny's suitor Graham and is initially a bit wary of David, but David's charm easily persuades him.
  • Plot-Sensitive Snooping Skills
  • Plucky Girl
  • The Reveal: David is married.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Assumed, but not intended. In the final scene with Jenny and her new boyfriend biking around the Oxford campus, David's car can be seen parked on the side of the street. This is remnant from the longer original ending in which David tries to win Jenny back. Carey Mulligan and director Lone Scherfig joke on the DVD commentary that only a few people actually catch this on the first viewing and those who do catch it assume that David has resorted to stalking her.
  • Those Two Guys: Jenny's friends, Hattie and Tina. They're a great Greek Chorus for Jenny's ego, hanging on every detail of her romance, but then either she dumps them or they dump her because they're never seen again. Though, it might be because she dropped out of school, so it wasn't necessary for them to be seen again.
    • A deleted scene would have shown Jenny apologising to them for being a bad friend after The Reveal.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness
  • Uptight Loves Wild: That's Jenny and David's relationship at first.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Jenny pulls this twice of David for his shady business (but she gets over it quickly) and when she finds out about his wife; she also pulls this on Danny, who always knew about the latter. Danny counters this by reminding Jenny that she didn't think too much of their shady business either.
    • Jenny's teacher and headmistress both question Jenny on her romance with an older guy on more than one occasion. And Jenny pushes right back.
  • Wise Beyond Her Years: Jenny seems sure that she's wise and pretty clever for a girl of her age. She really isn't. And she lampshades it in this exchange with Miss Stubbs:
    Miss Stubbs: You sound very old and wise.
    Jenny: I feel old, but not very wise.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: David.
  • Wrong Guy First
  • Your Cheating Heart: David is married and apparently cheats on his wife so often that the poor woman seems thoroughly resigned to having his jilted lovers turning up on their doorstep. Her dialogue makes it quite clear that Jenny is far from the first to do this—and that some have been even worse off, being in "the family way". About the only thing that really upsets her is how young Jenny is.