3) “An Education” – the Deconstruction Continues

The last post on this gem of a little movie identified the First Plot Point as the moment when David invited Jenny to skip school to attend an art auction.

As is the function of the FPP, this thrust the story into Part 2, which is all about the response of the hero to the new journey at hand.  In Jenny’s case, she’s just crossed the line from little girl crush to the realm of the morally compromised — the theme is the loss of innocence —  and you just know this is going to get ugly.

Especially for her. 

And that’s why this story works

Because we’ve come to care about her, empathize with her, and most importantly, root for her.

The Part 2 scenes begin with Jenny testing the water with her mother… being picked up on Friday to go to the auction… and then the art auction itself.

This is a key scene, and for two reasons.  First, Helen continues to tip her hand as someone who doesn’t fit in, whose role here is little more than eye candy.  Which implies that perhaps this is Jenny’s intended part in this charade, as well.  This continued dynamic is huge in the strategy to win over this audience, but we’re seeing the shallow world of Jenny’s future if she doesn’t figure out what we’ve already surmissed — these people are bad news.

Later in the auction scene, notice how David allows Jenny to do the bidding for her, which gives her a taste of what she’s already becoming addicted to – the good life, a life of luxury, perhaps a life with David at her side.

Her response to her decision and these first responsive moments after — her first steps down this self-chosen path — seems sweet indeed.  If she’s worried or unsure, it’s not on her face or in her manner.

The next scenes focus on what David does to earn all that money. 

Suddenly he’s not even trying to hide it from Jenny.  Yet he refuses to fully explain, leaving her in the car to observe some strange dynamics between an elderly woman, a black family and the odd exchange of a piece of art.

We can tell that Jenny notices and is confused, but isn’t ready to challenge him.

The next scene shows her getting a failing grade on an exam at school.  The consequences of her decisions are suddenly manifesting in her life.  She gets a strong talking-to by the Principal, but it falls on deaf ears.

We see her arguing with her father about the grade, who believes his Oxford dream for his daughter is over. 

Jenny runs into a young suitor that we’d met earlier, but she dismisses him coldly.  She no longer has time for little boys on bicycles, when grown men offering champagne await her that very evening.

The next scene is the First Pinch Point, coming at the 37 minute mark, right where it should.  In an earlier scene David had bet his friend Danny that he could talk Jenny’s father into allowing Jenny to accompany him on a weekend away, something even Jenny couldn’t resist betting against.

When we see David sweet-talking her parents with a bald-faced lie about introducing Jenny to C.S. Lewis, who supposedly lives in a village near where they will be staying, we finally get to see the full wonder of how well David can slip into a role to get what he wants.

Jenny sees it, too. 

Her boyfriend is a con man, a lair, and he’s very good at it.

This is the Pinch Point because it sticks the story’s primary antagonistic agenda and force right into the viewer’s face, reminding us of the escalating peril into which our little Jenny has been seduced.

They leave.  Jenny discusses sex with Helen, who dotes on her like a big sister.

When they stop for a meal, David pulls out a C.S. Lewis book and shamelessly forges the autograph they will show to Jenny’s father later.  She looks on with a slight doubt evident in her eyes, one she doesn’t want them to see lest they doubt her.

And then comes the inevitable moment when they are to share a bed. 

But to her surprise – and ours – he respects her wish to actually sleep with him, rather than the more common interpretation of the word when two people falling in love share a bed.  David respects this, and we – and perhaps Jenny – are encouraged that maybe his intentions where she is concerned are not as dark as we, the viewers, feared.

Her emerging doubts sated, Jenny attacks the next day in the country with new zeal.  But the fun takes a dark turn when they stop at a home to look at some artwork, leaving Jenny and Helen in the car while the men go in to do their business.

Jenny is curious, and Helen is forthcoming in explaining that this is what they do, it’s what pays for the dinners and the car and the trips.  And sure enough, the men emerge from the house with a piece of art and a sudden need to depart as fast as possible. 

There can be no doubt now.  Not for us, and not for Jenny.  This bunch is nothing more than four very pretty, low-life crooks masquerading as sophisticates.

Jenny is still responding – she’s outraged and suddenly frightened.  She knows what’s just happened and realizes she allowed herself to be sucked into it.

But is she entirely regretful of that fact?  We aren’t so sure.

The issue comes to a head upon returning to Danny’s place, which has become their base of operations.  Where David lives is never mentioned, and Jenny has never asked.

She confronts David with what she believes, and he doesn’t try to bend the truth.  Instead he tries to explain and defend that they are stealing from people who don’t appreciate the art they own or know its value.  Such beauty deserves to be in the hands of sophisticated people, like them, who can love and appreciate the treasure that it actually is.

He goes on to explain that this is the way they fund their lifestyle, reminding her that he shares her dreams and wants her to join him on this life journey.  But she needs to choose, right here and now.

David is every bit as seductive here with her as he was while talking her parents into allowing their prep school daughter to leave town with a 30-year old man.

We watch Jenny crack at this point.  Her dream, which is actually her inner demon, stops her from yielding to higher callings.  She rationalizes it as harmless, and David does have that legitmate business downtown with the rental flats.

Maybe she wants to change him.  To save him.  Or maybe she wants to ride at his side and feed off the adrenalin and night life.  We aren’t sure… and neither is she.

This moment of capitulation is the Mid-Point of the story.

The context going forward has shifted from Jenny as innocent passenger to Jenny as fully aware and endorsing player, a girl who has earned her smoky wings much sooner than even she would have imagined.

We are now embarking on Part 3, where Jenny leaves her wandering, following ways behind and begins a proactive role in understanding the mechanics of what they do – steal art – and the chemistry of her complex relationship with David.

At home she shows her father the signed C.S. Lewis book, which impresses him mightily and buys her some space as she continues to sink into the depth of the night into which she is seemingly destined to disappear.

The deeper they go the harder it is for David to control all the variables of his façade, and soon Jenny will discover that David isn’t the player he has positioned himself to be. 

And once again, Jenny is facing a decision that could affect her life. 

Will she yield to David’s significant charms and follow him into darkness?  Or will she wake up and finish school, in the hope that it’s not too late to snag that scholarship to Oxford.

So far, from a structural standpoint, this story has been flawless.  When this happens it makes all the other elements look good, too, which is why An Education received an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture and for Best Actress.

Both are well deserved.  As well deserved, perhaps, as the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination that it also received, but like the others, didn’t win.

British film in a hot commercial U.S. market… tough sell to the Academy membership.  But nonetheless, completely worthy of all three statues.

In the next post we’ll see why.

Next up – the wrapping up of An Education… and then some.


Filed under An Education-- the series

7 Responses to 3) “An Education” – the Deconstruction Continues

  1. I loved the 1st pinch point, because Jenny participates in the big lie by setting up David’s statements for her parents. Although not a full-fledged acceptance of his way as the midpoint is, this pinch point shows where Jenny is leaning.

  2. Kindese

    Am enjoying, mightily, your deconstructions and hesitate to complain, but the typos are so distracting! And even though I feel your scholarship in your overall message, the typos create doubt by their very nature…
    Don’t you have someone you can run your posts by for review before you post? Please!

  3. nancy

    Love the way you show how the structure sets up her decision-making dilemmas. The choices become more and more dire until she is finally backed into a corner with the letters in the glove box. I know that moment is seminal. Can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  4. I’m really enjoying getting into the meat of this. Like I said before, this is one of those films you learn more about each time you watch it.

    Just curious about the whole David not mentioning where he lives and Jenny never asking bit. It’s something I picked up on as soon as the final twist was revealed. Do you think this was a flaw in the story, or is it indicative of how dating worked back then? Would it have been entirely normal for Jenny not to know David’s address, or even neighbourhood?

    I know the old b&w film, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” had a similar ending to “An Education,” and it seemed to work there because Mrs. Muir lived out by the sea and her beau lived in the city.

    Do you think David should have given some explanation, like perhaps that he lived on the other side of London? Or do you think leaving it out, in itself, was meant to be a clue?

  5. Monica Rodriguez

    I’m enjoying this deconstruction as much as the previous ones. The scene-by-scene was helpful since I didn’t watch the movie. I haven’t been able to comment as often as I’d like, due to time constraints, but be sure that I’m reading your posts!

    A couple of questions:
    Yesterday, you referred to the inciting incident, and I thought of a confusion I have with different authors’ writings on structure. Let me know if I understand you: If what they call the inciting incident is on pg. 10 – or pg. 1 – it’s a Hook. The inciting incident doesn’t have to refer to the FPP. That’s what I gathered from your post. Only problem is some authors write about the II as if it were the FPP, even if it’s on the first page. But if I’ve got you right, I’ve got that straight.

    Also, you said that every scene in Part 1 must set up the FPP. What about scenes that are introducing characters or developing theme? Not enough purpose for that scene?

    Yesterday’s post caused me to ask myself about my FPP in my current WIP. Yes, it changes everything, but what does it *mean* to the characters? And to the readers? Have I set it up so it means what I want it to? Thanks for the food for thought.

    Today’s post really brought home to me how subtle a plot point and a pinch point can be. A story like this, with a lack of an “evil villain,” is great for pointing this out.

    Thanks for all your hard work!

  6. nancy

    Let me take a stab at Monica’s question and people can tell me if I’m on target. The Inciting Incident is when we realize that the protagonist might have a problem. Here it is that hanging out with an older guy and crowd (late nights, drinking, value shift) might diminish Jenny’s full attention toward the goal of attending Oxford. We want her to go to Oxford no matter what.

    The First Plot Point is when we see the full magnitude of the problem. It’s no longer giving up a little study time for David; it’s sacrificing her entire future for a fantasy. Therefore, the hook and the Inciting Incident show us why the main problem is so huge.

    I feel like if Jenny can manage the experience with the older guy without sacrificing her goal, it’s okay. But when we find out that the choice is one or the other, we scream, “No, don’t do it!” Plot Point 1 is when we see that she’s not going to listen to us. “Oh no!”

  7. Patrick

    I agree with Suzannah on the fact that “Where David lives is never mentioned, and Jenny has never asked.”

    This stuck in my craw too when I saw the film. It’s not as if those having an affair would necessarily know or ask about their lovers’ past or present – but even if she didn’t wonder if he was or had been married, wouldn’t she wonder what his place was like? If this omission is to be seen as a “clue” it would have been a better one had the topic come up and been brushed aside, or if he’d had a pied-a-terre where he took her.