To Dreamworld and Back: A Movie out of the Ordinary

Article excerpt

"An Education" 2009. Director Lone Scherfig. Scriptwriter Nick Hornby. Producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey.

Christianity and the classical heritage taught men and women to strive for a better life but to have modest hopes. The reason why we cannot look forward to a vastly improved worldly existence is that human beings--we ourselves in particular--are flawed creatures. We have to learn to deal with the consequences. We must not forget that this, not some imaginary utopian alternative, is the life we have to live. We should accept it and make the most of it.

But for over two centuries Western culture has generated the sentiment that the life in which we find ourselves is nothing compared to what might be. A longing for human existence to turn into something quite different and glorious has produced a tendency to disparage the possibilities of ordinary life. Instead of giving our actual lives our best effort, we moan because dreamt-of possibilities are out of reach. Novels, paintings, compositions, movies, and popular songs have depicted the depredation and pain of a narrow-minded, cramped, routinized, boring, oppressive society, and the thrill of a hoped-for liberation. The desire for sexual excitement and freedom has been pervasive. The imagination has tended to wander from tasks and opportunities actually at hand to visions of the human condition transformed. Political ideologues have catered to and encouraged the daydreamer in Western man, offering a magnificent future in which present limitations have been overcome and human beings can realize their fondest hopes. A wonderful fulfillment would be possible, if only. ... The culture of escape has left many grown-ups with the mind-set of children, addicted to fantastic stories with but a tenuous connection to real life.

The Hollywood dream machine has been perhaps the most powerful purveyor of the culture of escape. Romantic love stories involving beautiful men and women in spectacular, exotic surroundings have been merely the tip of the iceberg. That existing society is worth little and in need of drastic change has been the explicit or implicit message of countless movies. This has been as true of films with a dark, depressive flavor, including dystopias. These, too, have usually emanated from the mentality of daydreaming, expressing the disappointment and resentment of the chronic utopian dreamer who finds himself defeated by actual life and stuck in the same crummy old world. A manic-depressive imagination has strongly affected Western culture.

This type of sensibility has been an integral part of the outlook of the Western art establishment, including movie connoisseurs and reviewers. It is somewhat puzzling, therefore, that so much favorable attention should have been given to "An Education," a movie that, despite superficial appearances, would appear to challenge the dream of liberation from ordinary life. The film was even nominated for three Oscars, including the award for best movie of the year. Is the explanation the sheer artistry and charm of the movie? Or have the reviewers and connoisseurs simply missed a part of what the film has to say? Or have the prejudices and tastes of the arbiters of our culture started to yield to something different? Is there a stirring of dissatisfaction with cheap emotion and false liberation?

Lone Scherfig directed "An Education" on the basis of a script by Nick Hornby. Scherfig, a Dane, directed and wrote the original script for the delightful "Italian for Beginners." Like that earlier movie, "An Education" does not depict epic events or present some grandiose perspective. In comparison with the typical Hollywood film it might be described as low-key. It is the opposite of pretentious. It shows a slice of life not far outside of common human experience. Its characters, circumstances and events are--the movie leaves no doubt--from real life. And yet the viewer senses within moments that the story matters. …