“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray”
-“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
Coming-of-age stories are no longer fresh or exciting in today’s world. Even in the 1960’s, there were a fare share of those stories around for teenagers to relate to, but they were never short of horrid beach party movies. The only other one worth remembering was 1956’s Rebel Without A Cause. Luckily, 1967 had The Graduate to make up for the dry spell of great coming-of-age movies.
The Graduate has been hailed, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Amadeus, as nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the second film every one around me looked at me with disgust and said “How haven’t you seen it!” I’m tired of hearing this, even from my own mind telling me, and decided to see it. Before we hop into with my thoughts are, let’s talk about the plot.
There is more to this plot than the affair between Benjimin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Our titular graduate Ben has come back to California from college home to his parents (including William Daniels aka Mr. Feeny) with worries of the future carrying him. At a graduation party filled with his parents’ peers and friends, an older woman named Mrs. Robinson is intrigued by Ben. Mrs. Robinson asks for a ride home from Ben and they converse leading to an interesting conversation. Ben feels that Mrs. Robinson is coming off a bit too strong.
Ben rejects her advances, including her being naked in front of him, and leaves. Yet Ben finally gives in, sets up an affair at the Taft Hotel with a fake name in order to make love to Mrs. Robinson. This becomes more than an affair when Ben sees an interest in Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) much to her chagrin and is trying to decide if he should continue to graduate school or runaway from responsibility. As the tensions increase and the story plays out, Ben must come to terms with what is right, what is his future and where his relationship with Mrs. Robinson will end up.
The Graduate is more than the affair everyone remembers it for. It’s much more in-depth due to the direction of Mike Nichols and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It is quite an experience watching it for the first time, so be forewarned there are spoilers ahead for a movie that is nearly 50 years old.
One is being older and around the age Ben is. If I was in high school watching it, I probably would still be wondering why the hell it is so important. The relatable aspects, despite his own horrendous moments, really take a hold. There’s even a moment he realizes his actions after the burlesque show and even tells Elaine that he thought he had to be rude at his college age while becoming a tad redeemable in the recognition. He also stuck in the middle of the young kids of the next generation and the older generation. The hotel door revealed all in that. Here is a young adult opening a door for the older people as the young people enter, yet he is directly in the middle of it all with the door open to being with the old and the door about to close on the youthful days of yore. At this current moment, I feel like Ben because I’m not quite young, but I’m not that old either.
Second is Mrs. Robinson as a character and the other adults. These characters put a hold on Ben and try to put themselves in him. They see a kid with a bright future and seem to want help, but are actually weighing him down. His parents weigh him down in his own sense of freedom and education that bring him down mentally. Mrs. Robinson also weighs him down with arousal and seduction to take advantage and control of his sexual state of being at his current moment in time. This is during the 60’s where exploring the sexually was becoming in fashion. Here Ben is being tied down by her to the point she does everything in her power to stop him going further in exploration, i.e. with her daughter. It’s a battle of oppression by the previous views while coming to terms with the progressive views. Robinson is just slightly craving what he youth have and uses Ben as means of getting that. She needs to feel that old sense of wonder, freedom and possible rebellion with Ben in tow.
Third is the direction. Holy shit, pardon the language a tad, but the direction in this movie is perfect. There are shots that tell more than dialogue can. The dialogue of the film is hilarious including fun lines of wit and watching Hoffman fumble in both seducation and awkwardly stroll through life, but certain shots give it weight. The shot of him in the pool shows him at peace in the middle of nowhere escaping his troubles. The famous leg shot and stocking shots emphasize the power Robinson has on Ben. There is one shot I really loved (pictured above) where Ben is laying in the pool and is looking up at his parents and the Robinsons. The sun is directly behind them, giving them a mysterious shadow quality, totally showing the shadow they put on Ben. It emphasizes the previous point of the old generation against the younger generation.
Finally, the ending of this movie is great. I now have context to it and it makes sense. They made it out, but their is no uncertainty in the air looming. There faces say it all after the manic chaos of the end. They are free, but then “The Sounds of Silence” comes in to further demonstrate their uncertainty. It’s poignant and puts a nice cap on the the whole experience.
The Graduate is simply perfect and great for anyone in their twenties to relate to. IT hits every note just right to tell a story from its direction, its dialogue and its underlying tones of the old versus the new. The Graduate is worthy of its recognition.
Next week, The Greatest Films…I’ve Never Seen ends with a bang. The number one film on my list of movies I’ve never seen is finally here and it is a modern classic. Time to hang out with Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Pink. This month ends with Reservoir Dogs.