Which is more important - a formal education or life experience? Which shapes us more and has longer-lasting effects?
Jenny, our protagonist in An Education, is working hard to get into Oxford and sees it as a dead end into a life of boring conformity. Growing up outside London in the early 1960's, she stands on the outskirts of a cultural explosion, shielded by her old fashioned, single-minded parents. That is, until she meets a charming, charismatic, rich older man who whisks her into a world she's only dreamed of. Soon, Jenny decides to ditch her plans for higher education and run away to a life of music, freedom, ideas, and excitement - but is everything as it appears to be? Is the "school of life" an adequate substitute for a formal education? Is she making the right choice?
The title character in Precious has a different take on things. Life experience is all she has, and it's left her with nothing. Precious is a 16-year-old morbidly obese, illiterate, mother of a child with Downs Syndrome and is once again pregnant with her father's baby. She lives with her resentful, abusive mother in a Harlem tenement in 1987 and is only kept around for the welfare check. If you think that's a depressing set-up, don't worry: things only get worse for her. The public school system has failed Precious and she finds herself at an alternative school in a class led by Ms. Rain, the first person who refuses to give up on her. Ms. Rain sees value in Precious and works hard to show her that she has worth and for the first time, Precious realizes that there is another way, that a formal education is the path away from the abusive experience of her childhood. She may never achieve her fantasies of fame and glamor and will likely die young, but an education is a start for Precious and any step up from where she started is welcome.
Somewhere in between Jenny and Precious on this scale is Michael Oher (or at least the Michael Oher depicted in The Blind Side). Like Precious, Michael finds a nurturing, understanding supporter after a life of people giving up on him. Michael has problems with written tests, trusting others, and applying complex concepts. Hiding a decent mind behind a dull facade, he slowly starts to gain confidence from teachers and his adoptive parents, who must learn to reach him on his own level. Jenny and Precious gradually change their world view, but it's the people around Michael who change most of all in The Blind Side. Instead of Michael changing his view of the world, the world changes how it sees him. He's been fine all along.
As an aside, I'd like to share a little anecdote:
Woman In The Movie: [to Sandra Bullock] You've really changed that boy's life.
Woman Sitting Next To Me: He's changed mine.
Sandra Bullock: No... He's changed mine.
Me: [to Woman Sitting Next To Me] This movie writes itself, doesn't it?