Saturday, August 4, 2012

#719. The Graduate (1967)

Directed By: Mike Nichols

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

Tagline: "This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future"

Trivia: Paul Simon wrote two songs for the film that director Mike Nichols rejected: "Punky's Dilemma" and "A Hazy Shade of Winter". Both appear on the Simon and Garfunkel "Bookends" album

At first glance, Mike Nichols’ The Graduate doesn't have much in common with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider, two late ‘60s films that gave voice to a younger generation of movie fans. 

Yet in spite of its upper-class, suburban setting, The Graduate is ultimately about losing your way; about accomplishing something your parents feel is important, then realizing it doesn't mean a damn thing to you, and that's a confusion that every kid, regardless of his or her demographic, can identify with. 

Recent college graduate Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) now wanders aimlessly through life, struggling to find his identity. Things only get worse for Ben when the older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner (Murray Hamilton), tries to seduce him. Though reluctant at first, Ben eventually takes Mrs. Robinson up on her offer, and soon the two are engaged in a torrid affair. 

This causes more than a little friction when the Robinsons' daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross), returns home from school. Both of Ben’s parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), as well as Mr. Robinson, insist that Ben ask Elaine out on a date. The notion doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Robinson, however, and her anger only intensifies when Ben actually falls in love with Elaine, leading the elder Mrs. Robinson to take drastic measures to break the young couple apart. 

Ben Braddock is a lost soul through most of The Graduate, and his college degree proves useless as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. 

The manner in which director Nichols conveys Ben’s confusion is both stylish and effective. Take his graduation party, for instance, which is one of the film’s first scenes. It’s a standard setting: a suburban shindig with a large group of people talking amongst themselves about nothing in particular. But for Ben, who is even at this early stage a bewildered young man, the party is a farce, celebrating an accomplishment that is meaningless to him, and he longs to escape the slaps on the back and congratulatory praise of his parents’ friends. 

Yet everywhere Ben turns, there are more people, some offering empty words of wisdom. Throughout this entire sequence, the camera never leaves Ben’s side, and we're as excited as he is whenever a lane of escape opens up, only to fall back in disappointment the moment it closes, like when Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) appears from around a corner, advising Ben to consider a career in plastics. 

We can feel the party closing in on Ben, and we share his claustrophobia. When he finally makes his way to his bedroom and locks the door behind him, we’re as relieved as he is. 

What played out in the above sequence was a befuddled young man trying to leave his own party. What we felt, however, was his crippling anxiety, his driving desire to be left alone. By telling this story in such an active, participatory manner, director Nichols ensures we become one with Ben’s predicament, and while Ben may not be trying to change the world, we know, at the very least, he’s out to change his own condition. 

This is the magic of The Graduate, and the reason it’s a classic: it took the story of a lazy rich kid’s self-serving attempt to break free of his parents’ way of thinking and turned it into a film that spoke to a generation.


Anonymous said...

Great post. It's a classic by all means, but for some reason, I just couldn't connect with this one on a level as so many others did. Maybe it was the generation gap or something, but it was still a great rom-com that shows you the many sides of love. Good and bad.

dave_or_did said...

Hi, just leaving a message to say that Blueprint: Review has chosen your site to get a Liebster Award!

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks for the comments!

@dtmmr: Thank you, sir! And I know where you're coming from; this movie is one I love, but I admit it's dated in parts. And yes, it's a great rom-com, with a little more to it besides.

@Dave: Thank you very much! I'm definitely honored, and I appreciate your recommending me for this. BTW, sorry for disappearing so suddenly from Row Three...I started to get a bit overwhelmed! Again, thank you.