Title: The Graduate (1967)
Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
The Graduate is one of those classics that every film buff should see at some point in their lives. It’s a classic film with a fantastic script that manages to capture an era while addressing social issues at the same time. It is also, simply put, one of Dustin Hoffman’s best performances ever. What The Graduate achieves so well is that it captures the aura and general malaise of the 60’s; a time brimming with revolution and social unease. This film was made during the days of Nixon and Vietnam, a time when most Americans weren’t happy with the way the country was being run. Staying true to the idea that “art imitates life” the general discomfort felt in the nation during those days was subtly caught in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. The fantastic thing about The Graduate is that at first you can’t really tell what’s wrong with its main character, Ben Braddock, but you know something’s definitely bugging him. Little by little and in very subtle ways we discover that it’s modern society that’s got him on the edge, this world is too crazy and Ben can’t seem to take it.
In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman plays Ben Haddock, a young man who’s just returned from college. His parents throw him a welcome home party populated by family, friends and neighbors, all of them curious to know what Ben is going to do with his life now that college is over with. Problem is that Ben himself doesn’t even know what he’s going to be doing now, he feels uneasy, not ready to take any significant steps in life just yet. For now Ben seems contempt with just chilling by the pool and getting a sun tan, in a way, blocking out the rest of the world. But life has other plans for Ben. He ends up meeting Mrs. Robinson, a foxy lady who’s about to shake things up for Ben, the naïve young man. The character of Ben is one of the best things about the film; Dustin Hoffman perfectly embodies the insecure 20 something with everything to learn about life, a young man afraid to face the harsh realities of the world. I loved those scenes that mark the sharp contrast between Mrs. Robinson, an adult who is extremely sure of herself and knows her way around life and Ben, a young dude who doesn’t even know how to ask a waiter for a drink. The awkwardness between the two make for some truly great scenes.
What I loved the most about The Graduate is how it satirizes and comments the typical American family of the 60’s. Ben lives in a family that expects him to be a productive member of society, problem is, Ben doesn’t seem to like society very much. But his parents expect him to follow the program, go to college, get the job, fall in love, get married have kids and settle in your perfect suburban home with your pool and your perfect neighbors. Ben doesn’t care for any of these things at this point in his life, many things are wrong in the world for him, so everything else stops making sense to him. All this pressure “to do something with your life” is getting to him, especially when he sees the world around him falling apart. Coming back from college feels like he just came back from war, he simply can’t settle back into “normal” life. When we first meet Ben, he’s out of it; he can’t focus on being polite or having a light conversation. He has too much on his mind. It is hinted that his virginity also makes him uneasy, so he has a lot of that pent up sexual anxiety in him; fortunately, this is a problem that Mrs. Robinson is willing to help him with.
Aside from Ben’s sexual exploits, the main focus of the film is society and how Ben wants to turn his back on it. For example, the whole idea of marriage isn’t taken too seriously in the film; in fact, Ben is willing to get married to the object of his affections from one day to the next; at one point he nonchalantly asks her to marry him. “Are we getting married tomorrow? The day after tomorrow?” It is clearly shown that Ben doesn’t care about the institution of marriage; he just knows he loves Elaine and wants to be with her. Marriage is portrayed as something that we do out of tradition, or simply because it’s what you’re supposed to do, but not something that you really want to do. The whole ending of the film with Ben trying to stop Elaine’s marriage to some douche bag is a big “screw you!” to the institution of marriage. Elaine was just going through the motions; she was getting married to this doctor because it seemed like the safe thing to do, not because she loved the guy. She loved Ben, not the guy she was marrying. The final moments of the film are a revolutionary outcry to the status quo of things. Elaine and Ben seem to be saying “screw this world, we’re doing things our way!” So expect a film that displays young people trying to go against the grain, trying to change things. If you ask me, this is a natural reaction to the way the world was at the time. American was extra crazy during the last half of the 60’s, young people trying to shake things up was a gut reaction to the crazy world that surrounded them. By the way, the whole ending for Wayne’s World 2 (1993), in which Wayne tries to stop Cassandra from marrying Christopher Walken was completely copied, almost shot for shot, from The Graduate! They even filmed it in the same Presbyterian Church!
But then again, many filmmakers have been influenced by The Graduate. Director Wes Anderson, the guy behind The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Moonrise Kingdom (2013) and Rushmore (1998) is very obviously an admirer of The Graduate. For example, same as The Graduate, Rushmore focuses on the life of a student going through an existential crisis while looking for love. The only thing that Anderson did differently with Rushmore is that he turned things around, instead of the mature lady trying to seduce the naïve young man; it’s the other way around, it’s the naïve young man that wants to seduce the foxy lady. A couple of more elements from The Graduate show up in Anderson’s Rushmore, for example, there’s a scene in The Graduate that takes place as Ben and his family are hanging out by the pool. In this scene Ben’s parents are constantly asking things of him, so when Ben can’t take his parents constant yammering, he hides underwater, trying to shut out the rest of the world. In Rushmore there’s a scene that mirrors that one in which Bill Murray’s character does the exact same thing, he shuts out the crazy family by hiding underwater. There’s also the aspect of criticizing the modern American family and what is wrong with it, an element that can clearly be felt in The Graduate and has also been present in most of Anderson’s films. So as you can see, Wes Anderson has always had a hard on for this film.
And yet another aspect of the film that makes it memorable is its soundtrack which is almost entirely composed of songs by Simon and Garfunkel. It might take a little getting used to (especially for those who didn’t grow up listening to Simon and Garfunkel) because Simon and Garfunkel are all over this movie, but after a while you realize that this movie and Simon and Garfunkel are and will forever be linked together, one goes with the other. I think the soundtrack gives the film uniqueness; the duo are an integral part of this film, right down to having a song called “Mrs. Robinson”, just like one of the main characters in the film. So if you ask me, The Graduate is a bonafide classic. It's class A, grade A, filmmaking. It explores family life in a somewhat similar fashion to films like American Beauty (1999) and the more recent Silver Linings Playbook (2012). It holds a mirror to our collective behavior and then asks the question, why are we the way we are?
Rating: 5 out of 5
Behind the Scenes on the making of The Graduate