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Oltarsh-McCarthy, V. (2010). An Education: A Study in Dissociation. Psychoanal. Perspect., 7(2):397-401.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 7(2):397-401

Film Reviews

An Education: A Study in Dissociation

Review by:
Valerie Oltarsh-McCarthy, LCSW, MPH

FROM THE MOMENT THE CAMERA FASTENS ON HER LIVELY EYES AND ever-changing facial expressions, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) and her beguiling adolescence become the focus of An Education. The viewer is mesmerized by the girl, whose look contrasts sharply with her prim and regimented girls' school and a dreary early-1960s London. The enthrallment blossoms as this only child is situated with her dull and ineffectual parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) and courted by a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard as David).

An Education is the 2009 film adaptation of British journalist and author Lynn Barber's (Mostly Men, Demon Barber) autobiography, although this is nowhere made known in the film. At first glance, the title seemingly suggests the focus of an adolescent schoolgirl's strivings to become an Oxford sophisticate. But reflecting on the film, perhaps Barber means “an education” in human relationships—on the cultural and interpersonal contagion of narcissism and sociopathology, or perhaps on the way internal character structure may seem inexplicably sound (and not be) but then truly solidify after exposure to a complex and troubling interpersonal experience.

As the story begins, Jenny and her cello wait for a bus home from school in a downpour. Traffic passes, a mum pushes a pram across the road. … One's impression is that Jenny's London is unspectacular and gray. Until, in a moment, a fellow with a red sports car pulls to the curb. He offers the cello a ride, suggesting that a young girl ought be mindful of an older man.

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