Friday, November 20, 2009

The Steep Price of a Certain Education

Saving u a seat, texted Ellen from inside Theatre 2 of the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

I checked the time on my BlackBerry while climbing frantically out of the cab I had caught on Columbus Avenue ten minutes earlier. Somehow, I was always rushing. Not that I didn't have a good reason, having just driven down from a business meeting in Westchester, stopped in Riverdale to pick up Little Babe from choir practice, made a pit stop at our Morningside Heights apartment to drop him off (and then ran upstairs after him to place an order for pizza only to dash downstairs before the car got ticketed), drove like I was on crack to find a parking spot that was good for Friday, which turned out to be right off of Columbus, where I grabbed the cab that brought me to the theatre.

It wasn't that I was actually late; the film would start in twelve minutes. In Manhattan, however, failing to get to a movie early can result in that most severe form of film-goer's agony -- sitting in the front row.

Though I had to squelch the desire to strangle the two ultra-slow patrons in the line ahead of me, I needn't have worried in the least. But I didn't know that yet, so I fled down the escalator like a fugitive, ripped through the ticket-holder's line like a marathon runner breaking through the finish line and stomped into Theatre 2 like Godzilla on a rampage, whereupon I came to a complete standstill. Smack dab in the center of the empty theatre sat my friends and their adult daughter. Aside from them, about 10 other people had shown up for the 8:15 show of An Education.

Of course, the film had been out already for over a month and evidently every other person in the city had already seen it.

This film came with the highest of recommendations from HOBB and Big Babe, who had gone to see it together when it first opened. "You will LOVE An Education," my husband enthused when they returned home. "The girl will remind you of yourself."

"Yeah," chimed in Big Babe. "Especially her obsession with Paris. And her relationship with an older man."

"Hey," I said. "I was not exactly SIXTEEN when I met dad."

"Mhhmmm. Twenty-two is really old," observed my son sarcastically. "Of course, not quite as old as thirty-three." I rolled my eyes, having heard this drill before. Since my two older children entered their twenties, they became fixated on the fact that, by the tender age of twenty-two (almost twenty-three!! I keep insisting) I had married their dad, who was thirty-three (actually a couple of weeks away from thirty-four) at the time.

This fact always constituted a unique selling point of my marriage yet as my children have approached (and surpassed) the age at which I got married, I have become outraged at the notion of the cradle-robbing that took place twenty-six years ago... involving me. Who supported this idea? Why did my parents hand me over at such a tender age? And wasn't HOBB uneasy at the prospect of marrying such a young girl? Not that I remotely thought of myself as a child or little girl at that time. By moving in with an older guy, I felt myself to be on the cutting edge of rebellious sophistication, jump-starting my adulthood, skipping over all the awkward and unnecessary stuff. And it was not wifedom that I sought but adventure; intrigue, dinner parties, travel, ideas, witty conversation, a passport to the grown-up world where I could charm one and all by being perpetually younger.

Some 26 years after hooking up with an older man -- the oldest in a series of older men, in fact -- I found myself in a darkened theatre with friends watching a young British schoolgirl pursue an affair with her older man (Peter Sarsgaard unconvincingly playing a Jew named David Goldman.) Allow me to skip over my chief objections to the film – too predictable, too obvious, too glib, too unrealistic for such a smart girl to fall in with such a rake, too That Girl in its wide-eyed depiction of how the world opens up to Jenny through her association with David (the cliched weekend in Paris scenes actually made me want to slash the movie screen) – and simply state that I watched this film mostly without pleasure. As I was really hoping to love An Education (and afterwards call son and husband to gush and reminisce about our favorite scenes), I felt tremendously let down.

Over the past day, I've tried to analyze the situation and concluded that what ruined the film ultimately for me was the certain knowledge that Jenny, not David, would end up with the broken heart. There is a sad and unspoken truth in most situations involving older men and younger women (excluding Lolita, but perhaps not really) and that is that the romance is never equal to the reality, the younger partner never properly "catches up" to the older one and that there is a steep price to be paid by those who seek premature access to the adult world.

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