There is something irresistible about being seduced.
I think we all understand that virtually nobody will attempt to seduce us for our own good, yet the possibility that someone cares about us so much that they're willing to make us the focus of all that effort - there's something very attractive about it.
When we say the word ''seduction,'' we tend to think of a sexual conquest, but there are thousands of kinds of seduction. Someone wants us to purchase their brand of floor wax, or to spend our life's savings for four nights and five days at their tropical resort. Someone wants us to believe in their religion or vote for their candidate.
There is an extraordinary new film out, on the subject of seduction. It's called ''An Education'' and it was made by Director Lone Schirfig. At the time of this writing, it's playing at the Reg Lenna Civic Center as part of their film series.
There are periods in our lives, in which we are most susceptible to being seduced. One of these is at the edge of old age, when we begin to lose control over our own lives and feel as though we have little to lose.
An even more dangerous period is in the last few days of our youth, when we have become very aware of all the wonderful things there are, just out there, and we haven't yet learned that every wonderful thing has a price which we will have to pay. It's that very risky time when we begin to notice that others have lost those wonderful things, and our greatest fear is that we will lose them too, because we don't know how to pursue them.
''An Education'' is based on the memoirs of a British journalist named Lynn Barber. She finished high school in the London suburb of Twickenham, in the very early 1960s, when the Beatles hadn't yet come to fame and when parents still had the horrors of World War II on their minds, and were motivated by a strong desire to protect their children from the evils in life, and to shower them with the good things, almost in revenge.
The film's central character is named Jenny. She is an attractive and talented high school student, an only child who her loving but naive parents believe is destined for Oxford University and a bright and happy future.
Jenny's parents have made her an ideal candidate for seduction, by teaching her to want good things for all the wrong reasons. They want her to play the cello in a student orchestra because it is the kind of activity which will look good on her college application. They want her to go to their country's finest university so she will meet the kind of man who will buy her expensive clothes and take her on delightful trips, etc.
Shortly after the film begins, Jenny is standing at the bus stop, with her expensive cello, in the rain. Along comes handsome David, nattily dressed, in a glamorous and clearly expensive sports car.
He expresses concern for the instrument, and yet explains that it would be unwise for her to accept a ride from a total stranger, so he volunteers to drive the cello home for her, while she remains safely - if damply - on the sidewalk. When she expresses concern that he could steal the cello, he insists that he hand her the price of the instrument in cash, so that if he drives away, she could buy another one.
One of the sad things about public education is that there is no buzzer which sounds when a student has had enough of it. There is always that awkward moment when some students in a class could greatly benefit from one more essay, or two more, or six more, while others have written enough, and the writing of them becomes an empty exercise.
Jenny has written enough, and David begins offering her concerts instead of music lessons, opportunities to meet authors instead of reading their books, and the like. He invites her parents out to dinner and seduces them as well, spinning stories of his Aunt Helen who would enjoy chaperoning Jenny on little weekends at Oxford and eventually on a cultural visit to Paris.
The girl is thrilled, and though she begins to detect flaws in his attractive veneer, her enthusiasm teaches her that this is just the way adults are. Is Aunt Helen really just his best friend's girlfriend, and no chaperone at all? Does his considerable wealth seem to come from going to open houses held by real estate agents, where he can deftly remove objects whose owners probably don't even know their value?
Fortunately for Jenny, David isn't an axe murderer, he's just a skunk. But she has missed her final exams at school, and skipped her university entrance exams because she was being sent to Oxford, not for an education, but to find a man, and she thought she had found one. Has her entire bright future been lost by a few bad choices?
Actress Carey Mulligan is 23, so she isn't completely believable as a 16-year-old Jenny, but she comes a lot closer than most of the adults who represent teens in our television shows and films.
She has been compared many times in the press to the young Audrey Hepburn, because Hepburn had the gift to make millions of film-goers fall completely under the spell of her charm, and Mulligan has that gift also. Despite her inexperience, she deserves her nomination as Best Actress in a Leading Role. By the way, the film has also been nominated as Best Picture, and the screenplay has been nominated as Best Screenplay, Adapted from Another Medium.
Anyone who has dealt with teens knows that they can sometimes seem like complete adults, even though most of them are still lacking the maturity to handle the stresses of full adulthood, and only rarely do they understand the difference, themselves.
The film is beautiful to look at, believable, and it makes the viewer care about its characters.
Peter Sarsgaard was an excellent choice to play David. As his flaws begin to register with the viewer, and with Jenny, they seem so minor compared to all the good things about him. Surely it's only good manners, just to overlook them.
The actor has a gift for letting the audience know that there is more to the picture than he is coming out and saying, giving us a hint of warning that there is more to come.
It is very common in our country for people to confuse education with training. Pretty Jenny gets a true education from her experiences. Critic Roger Ebert quotes in his review of the film, from the original book, on which it is based. Ms. Barber, who represents the future of our heroine, says that her experience gave her exactly what her parents had wanted for her - an education. She now realized that sophistication is not a style of dress, nor a kind of car, not the experiences of travel.
She says it prepared her to respect kind, decent boys of her own age, to enjoy their company, and to accept their flaws as well as their talents. The film was visually beautiful, intellectually interesting, and emotionally involving. I hope you get a chance to see it. It hasn't been released on DVD yet, but when it is, it will be available for rental, or for loan, through the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System.
I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF
If you want a straight necktie, or a hemline which doesn't expose an inch of slip, or teeth which aren't punctuated with bits of spinach, I strongly recommend that you look into a true mirror, rather than at the most flattering photo of yourself which has ever been taken.
Nearly everyone prefers a perfect image of himself, rather than a view of his or her own flaws, but all that leads to is self-deception, and that always makes us look like fools.
Bill Bryson is an author whose works I have reviewed before, always enthusiastically. He was born in Iowa, but he has moved back and forth from the U.S. to Great Britain several times, always living for a significant number of years before going the other direction.
Bryson has written a number of books in which he describes life in Britain from an American's point of view, and he has now written a book describing life in the U.S., as seen in the eyes of someone who has seen other ways of life. His eye is the mirror in which we can see the spinach in our teeth, if we let it.
His recent publication of essays on America is titled ''I'm a Stranger Here Myself.''
What makes the book work is the remarkable blend between outrageous humor and clear-eyed factualism. Similarly, though, the book's greatest weakness is that it isn't always clear whether he is exaggerating qualities for effect, or actually describing a real situation.
After living in England for 22 years, Bryson moved with his British wife and his four British-born children, back to his native land, in 1995. He settled in Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of prestigious Dartmouth College, and began writing a weekly column about America, for a British magazine.
Much of his humor comes from pointing out things we probably already know, but find funny when a point is made. He and his family, for example, promptly purchase a minivan which seats seven passengers, and came with 17 cup holders. Stopping at a gas station, the author learns that in addition to fuel, the station sells sweet, very cold drinks which come in sizes as large as 60 ounces.
This leads to rumination upon seven people, each possessing a 60-ounce sweet drink and a bottle of stomach remedy, and still having three extra cupholders, and what else might be needed to fill them.
Mixed with the humor, though, are observations worthy of consideration. He observes a neighbor who parks in front of the post office, leaves his motor running while he runs inside to mail a payment for a bill which he might easily have paid in person. The neighbor then gets back into the car and drives two doors to a small grocery store, into which he runs, leaving his engine running, then moves one more space, further down the street.
Bryson calculates the money and time invested in all the parking and re-parking, the fuel wasted, the pollution caused, the need of the businesses to cover land with pavement for parking lots, and to repair the pavement and to shovel snow from the pavement, because people like his neighbor don't want to walk a few steps.
He times cars waiting in lines for drive-in windows at fast food restaurants, and compares them with the time it take to go inside and eat in comparative comfort.
We are a funny people. We mean well, but we often cause ourselves all kinds of grief because we pride ourselves on not questioning our own behavior. It isn't just that we don't notice these things, we get angry if someone points them out to us.
Just in passing, in 2005, Bryson moved back to Britain, where he has been made Chancellor of Durham University.
The book is funny, but always food for thought. ''I'm a Stranger Here Myself'' was printed by Broadway Books, which is a division of Random House.
In paper bound edition, it sells for $14.95, and has 288 pages, divided into 3-4 page columns so you can read it while you drive two doors at a time, waiting to pick up your children. Find it with ISBN number 0-7679-0382-X.
At least one copy of the book and sometimes a large print version or an audio recording of it are available for borrowing from several different libraries in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, and naturally it's available from all of them, through inter-library loan. Find it at the libraries in Jamestown, Silver Creek, Dunkirk, Mayville, Chautauqua, Westfield, Delevan-Yorkshire, Lakewood, and Ellington.
The Jamestown Audubon Society is seeking artists to participate in their Art in the Woods art show and sale on July 17-18.
Artists who work in natural media, clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, and wood, as well as paintings and photography, are encouraged to apply.
The show is held out of doors, rain or shine, so media must be capable of surviving those conditions. Artists must supply their own outdoor booths. A very few indoor booths are available. The show will be limited to the work of 50 artists.
Artists who have previously participated in the Audubon Society's show do not need to submit samples of their work. Final jurying will be based upon balance of show as well as quality and appropriateness. For more information and an application form, phone 569-2345 or e-mail email@example.com. Applications must be postmarked by March 1.
Artworks donated by artists who participated in the 2009 Art in the Woods will be auctioned at the Gala Dinner and Auction at Roberto's at the Ironstone, in Jamestown. To request an invitation to that dinner, use the same phone number or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.