"Did he have to be … Jewish?"
Yes … and no, comes my response to a question posed about the charming rogue who provides quite "An Education" for the virginal victim he chooses to sully in the film, now playing the Ritz at the Bourse, and playing to the hearts of Golden Globe voters, as well as last season's Sundance faithful, who gave the film its Audience Award.
But why does David Goldman, the sincerely unfaithful romantic oiled to a perfect grease stain by Peter Sarsgaard, have to be identified as a Jew?
What good can come from this 1950s Brit — who blitzes sweet, sublime Jenny (Carey Mulligan) with his jaded savoir-fare to a fair-thee-well — being … Jewish?
To which I answer — why need there be good?
Saint Jew — need there be one in Hollywood, which already has been castigated by those looking for trouble as being in "love" with the Holocaust?
One of the beauties of "An Education," a possible Oscar-nodder for best picture, as well as stunning scene-stealer Mulligan, is that Goldman's mettle is tested as a human, not a Jew.
Detractors wince, of course, at the aspersions cast his way by a hateful headmistress (Emma Thompson), schooled in bias and bigotry who finds it intolerable that one of her 16-year-old students is courted by a much older man. What makes matters worse is she's being wooed by the Jewish equivalent of a witch doctor.
And there may be those who find the parents' (Cara Seymour and Alfred Molina — Broadway's recent Tevye looking like he left Anatevka long ago) off-handed verbal culture clash about Jews more offensive than innocuous — though the parents ultimately put aside hesitations of Hebrew history lessons for a chance their daughter could marry a real star, David or otherwise.
But when push comes to shove and audiences discover that the scamp is a scuzz, does it matter that he's Jewish?
The intoxicating inverse of "Can't we all get along" may very well, be "Can't we all be saints and sinners?"
For those whose task is to tsk-tsk and bemoan, "Is it good for the Jews?" here's an answer: "An Education" is good for everyone, especially for those who believe tarnished metal is ecumenical in face value.
"An Education" is a revelation — Jews have finally joined the club, only to discover that they're just as responsible for the rules once bent and bashed over their heads as outsiders.
The country club — in this case, the country is England of the 1950s — has opened its doors to show that we can be portrayed without public protest as vulnerable and vicious, without fear of being singled out.
Because a singular beauty of "An Education" is that when the school headmistress does lash out over David, it's she who looks deserved of 30 lashes.
And when David is revealed to be the pathological poseur that he is at film's end, there is only one conclusion possible.
Look at that; he's human.