A story set in the 1960s, the film is about a schoolgirl getting ready to apply to Oxford University, but gets sidetracked by an older gentleman, and is led to a life of glamor. Nick Hornby tells a classic, coming-of-age story, and combines it with what education meant to women of that period. The story is not ground-breaking. It reminded me of Mona Lisa’s Smile, but British, subdued, with better costumes and slightly more sophisticated writing. Carey Mulligan, who plays the main character, Jenny, is the gem of the film. She is a convincing actress, and possesses every charm in her poise and mannerisms. I think she has also won a crazy number of awards for her leading role.
The message that gets repeated in the film is the question of the importance of an education. In the 60s, women were just finding their voices, and the idea of feminism had just come into play, but the empowerment did not achieve concrete results. Women were still faced with the “glass ceiling”, possessed with every skill needed for a managerial position that was never offered. Many went to university with big dreams, only to be faced with two choices after graduation: working in academia and remaining a spinster for the rest of their lives, or, becoming someone’s wife. Even now, I don’t see the situation as much different. There remains a stigma for women who have successful careers that ultimately, they will end up alone. I understand that to be successful, a lot of effort and time need to be spent on careers that take away from relationships. But, men do it all the time. There is something innate in women that makes us stay home and wait. It’s like we’re protecting a nest, even if there’s no one in it.
Anyway, back to my original thought about education. Jenny’s plan in the movie was to go to Oxford and study English Literature. There is an interesting relationship between her and her father in the story. In the beginning, he was portrayed as a strict parental figure who tries to do everything in his power to get Jenny into university. When she is faced with a proposal, Jenny seeks her father’s advice to either marry the rich man and give up schooling, or continue on her path to higher education and a life of her own. He tells her to marry, because that is the ultimate goal in life for a woman anyway. Seriously??! I’d like to think that we, as a society, have progressed beyond that, but I don’t think we have. I was reading an article in Toronto Life a little while ago about generation Y, how we are the most educated, and yet, the least employed. What does an education mean to us these days but a piece of paper of approval?
My grandparents take great pride in being educated. It was my grandfather, actually, that inspired me to go to University of British Columbia. I know that they would love it if I was doing a master’s in something, anything, right now. And the reason why I’m not, besides from needing a job to pay the bills? I don’t know what I would study. I guess, if finances were not an issue, I would study literature at Cambridge. Of course, having financial freedom means I could just bribe my way into the registry. Or… film critique! Ancient Mythology! Anthropology! I would go back for a master’s for pure pleasure, and not much else. And that, is what an education means to me.