Educating Rita is about a hairdresser who's discontent and restless in her comfortable, but static relationship. After marrying so young and with her husband continually pressuring Rita to start a family, she seeks an outlet where she doesn't have to feel so trapped all of the time. If marriage feels like a prison, then a child would certainly be the proverbial ball around her ankle. The enthralling institution of academia is beckoning to Rita. Rita (Julie Walters) wants to increase her self esteem and her standing in society by getting a higher education as she's working, which her good, but traditional, husband doesn't approve of. As Rita enthusiastically goes off to her open university course, she meets her alcoholic literature professor Frank (Michael Caine) whose unorthodox and somewhat blase approach to elitism clicks with the working class Rita.
The despondence of Frank is shown immediately as he walks through this beautiful university with some classically pompous music blaring proudly, only to follow Frank into his office where the first thing he does is reach for a hidden bottle of booze. Frank can barely stand any of it. The facade of an education giving Frank any sort of happiness is quickly shot down when we see the reality of his booze soaked existence. Frank suffers through class after class listening to students spouting out a bunch of regurgitated intellectual sentiments. They're more interested in copying, learning by rote, and in memorizing paragraphs than they are in thinking for themselves.
Then in walks Rita, like a ray of light in Frank's life because of her honesty, her curiosity, and her opinions. Which she unabashedly holds as her own. Rita is able to converse with Frank in a way that doesn't come across as if she had taken notes and prepared for it. Rita has struggled, has sacrificed, and has lived a life of her own. Rita is coruscating and elan to Frank, a breath of fresh air that helps him remember why he wanted to teach. But the "catch 22" is that the more Frank teaches Rita, the more Rita blends into the uniformity of academia. Nevertheless, Frank takes Rita under his wing and guides her through the institution of higher learning, hoping that she'll retain her wonderfully unique soul among all the portentous students.
Originally, there were the students who are told what to think, and about who, while Ria takes everyone (past and present) at face value, refusing to abide by their putative stature in education. I don't think it'd be fair to say that Rita "refuses" to acknowledge them, only that she "questions" their status. However once Rita acquires confidence and knowledge, she turns into the very thing that she (and Frank) feared at the start. Just another elitist 'know-it-all' students who forget the difference of subjectivity and objectivity. Rita gained an education, but lost her soul. Rita continually harps on about the “things that really matter” after she's an educated woman, but soon discovers what Frank had been trying to teach her. When Rita's "sophisticated" roommate, a woman who was everything Rita wanted to be, tried to kill herself, she said that poems and literature is nice and all, but that it, alone, is not enough to sustain a persons emotional needs.In one analogy in the movie, Rita's mother depressingly said that "There has to be better songs (lives) than this", but Rita had only succeeded in finding a “different song”, not a "better" one. An education wouldn’t fill the confusion and emptiness in her heart.
Educating Rita was a charming, witty, and enjoyable movie, but I thought it could be too anvilicious, and even mawkish at times. Loaded with plenty of familiar platitudes about a woman needing to "find herself", like a woman who’s read too much cosmo, or whatever the ilk of the day was. It was still anchored by two strong performances from Julie Walters and Michael Caine, though Julie could have toned down the working class accent a bit. Good "transformational" movies like these can be deeply satisfying to watch. They tell us that we can all change our circumstances, if we really want to. And the dangers of developing a herd-like mentality in universities seems like an especially important one nowadays where things seem to be less about questioning and more about obeying and reciting the established norm. Watching Rita develop from an ingénue, into an elitist, and then to coming to the realization of the "things that really matter" was a gratifying one, even if it was a little saccharine. Kudos for not including a tawdry love affair between the professor and his student too.
Written by - The Sentry - 24/05/2017