Educating Rita

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"Educating Rita"
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenwriter: Willy Russell
Released: 1983
With Julie Walters, Michael Caine, and others
Rita (Julie Walters) is a twenty-six years old hairdresser from Liverpool who has decided to get an education. Not the sort of education that would get her just a better job or more pay, but an education that would open up for her a whole new world--a liberal education. Rita wants to be a different person, and live an altogether different sort of life than she has lived so far. She enrolls in the Open University, a government program that allows non-traditional students to get the kind of higher education that used to be reserved more or less for the offspring of the upper classes, and mainly for male students at that. "Educating Rita" describes the trials and transformations that the young hairdresser has to go through to develop from a person with hardly any formal schooling at all into a student who passes her university exams with ease and distinction. In the course of telling this story, the film also suggests what the essence of a liberal education may be. The story is presented in the form of a comedy, a comedy that revolves around the personal and pedagogical relationship between Rita and her main teacher, Dr. Frank Bryant (Michael Caine). Frank Bryant teaches comparative literature, and it is his job to prepare Rita for her exams. Unfortunately, Frank Bryant has lost all enthusiasm for his academic field and its related teaching duties. He loathes most of his regular students, and the main function of the rows of classical works that still fill the bookshelves in his office is to hide the whiskey bottles without which he is not able to get through the day and the semesters anymore. When he teaches his regular classes he is frequently drunk, and in response to a student's complaint that students are not learning much about literature in Bryant's class, the burned-out teacher gruffly advises: "Look, the sun is shining, and you're young. What are you doing in here? Why don't you all go out and do something? Why don't you go and make love--or something?" Frank Bryant is a disenchanted intellectual who has no real use anymore for literature, culture, or the life of the mind. Introducing working people in particular to the world of higher education seems utterly pointless to him. When he finds himself assigned as the primary tutor for Rita he remarks to a fellow-instructor: "Why a grown adult wants to come to this place after putting in a hard day's work is totally beyond me." He himself would much rather go to a pub, than spend the evening instructing some disadvantaged student. When Rita appears at Frank's office for their first tutorial session, however, the two take a sort of liking to each other. Rita is bright, vivacious, charming, and good looking to boot. "Why didn't you walk in here twenty years ago?" Frank exclaims. He is twice her age and looks somewhat disheveled (like a "geriatric hippie," as Rita puts it), but he impresses his new student by his irreverent humor and easy-going manner. Trying to deflate her respect for his seemingly impressive academic accomplishments, he says: "I am afraid, Rita, that you will find that there is much less to me than meets the eye." To which Rita replies: "See, y' can say dead clever things like that, can't y? I wish I could talk like that. It's brilliant." In spite of Frank's initial attempt to excuse himself from his assignment and to repair to a pub, he eventually gives in to Rita's pleading and agrees to be her instructor. Frank wants to know why Rita has "suddenly" decided to get an education. She has a secure job, after all, and there is no pressure on her to enroll in a program of higher education. Rita answers that her desire is not sudden: "I've been realizin' for ages that I was, y' know, slightly out of step. I'm twenty-six. I should have had a baby by now; everyone expects it. I'm sure me husband thinks I'm sterile. He was...
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