For ten marks, explain the significance of the shots of the robotic lawnmower (no seriously, because they’re mind-boggling).
Appropriately for its literary focus, The Lesson feels, in places, like the gripping adaptation of a bestselling psychological thriller. Unfortunately, though, its initial cleverness peters out in a contrived ending that ironically feels like it belongs to the pulpy airport fiction that one character accuses another of writing.
The Lesson’s early chapters (another way the movie’s form mirrors its content) crackle with tension, as Oxford grad and aspiring writer Liam observes the icy dynamics of the Sinclair family, whose son he’s been hired to provide university admission tuition to. The Sinclairs are still grieving the loss of another child, a process made more painful by the brittle ego of their patriarch — JM (Richard E. Grant), a celebrated author who happens to be Liam’s literary hero. Liam’s career ambitions complicate his position: he’s as much an enthusiastic student as he is a teacher here, and among the screenplay’s many suggestions is also Tom Ripley-style envy. The Lesson ultimately scuppers this complexity, though, as the writing eventually abandons its psychological study aspirations and swerves into melodrama, leaving the cast struggling to make it all believable. Still, while the ending may disappoint, there are juicy, intelligent ideas to be pondered over — not quite a bestseller, then, but definitely not airport fiction either.
Two things: first, the cinematography. Frequently gorgeous, the camera often floats striking images that either subtly echo the script’s intriguing insinuations or offer up interesting suggestions of their own. Irrespective of the unsatisfying ending, The Lesson is also still worth a watch for the intellectual questions it asks about artistic ownership and the reasonable limits of literary inspiration. Again, the plot’s awkward left turn leaves some of these ideas by the wayside, but they’re thought-provoking enough to survive beyond the credits.