by Brek the David
The Graduate (1967) – Director: Mike Nichols Adapted Screenplay: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross OSCAR COUNT (1) – Best Director (Nichols)
“Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, if you don’t mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange.”
If the Graduate counts as a romantic comedy, then it is by far the greatest romantic comedy of all time. It Happened One Night is certainly the gold standard of romantic comedies, but The Graduate flips the concept. I’m also not so sure The Graduate fits into the pretty little picture that romantic comedies paint. Not to give away the ending, but there is an uncertainty that all will end happily ever after. At the very least the closing moments of the film are ambiguous. Mixed with elements of great drama, and filled with amusing awkward situations, The Graduate takes a look at fledgling adulthood in a realistic light, a light that casts stark shadow.
Benjamin Braddock has just finished college and it’s time to join the world. This is an unsure time in most American’s lives, as the transition from adolescent to adult is a strange time in one’s life. Of course, these are problems many would prefer to have over much more dire decisions, but to the unitiated, the young folk going through the trials, it can be hardest time of their lives. Ben’s got it pretty easy. He’s a member of a wealthy family. He’s gone to college, in the foothills of a successful career most likely. Yet something just isn’t quite right with Benjamin. Something is keeping him from soaring. It’s a cliché, but behind great men, there is a great woman.
Enter Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner. She too is a lonely woman, past her prime. She’s entered that time in a person’s life where they have in all likelihood lived more years than they have left. While Ben’s adult life is just beginning, Mrs. Robinson has entered her twilight. So one night after a party, the classic “seduction” scene occurs that leads to an affair between the two. In the 1960s this was a taboo subject for sure. It’s much more acceptable today, but in the 1960s this was a shocking turn of events.
This is another great thing about this film. The subject matter symbolically parallels what was going in America at that time. The late 60s were a revolution of the mind for the United States. We were transitioning from an odd false facade of pristine clarity to a society that no longer took much at face value. This unmasking and deconstruction on a social level is what is going on in The Graduate. Mrs. Robinson represents the old guard and she is shown to be nothing like Mrs. Cleaver when reality’s light illuminates her. In fact she’s literally stripped naked, seducing a man who could be her son to metaphorically show that the old times were a sham. Complicating matters, Ben develops what he thinks is true affection for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine. Ben is torn between the young and the old.
Pervasive throughout The Graduate is Simon and Garfunkel’s incredible music. Some of Simon’s best is here, Scarborough Fair, The Sound of Silence, and of course, Mrs. Robinson. While the music is great and adds much weight and substance to the images, it’s really the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft that make The Graduate such a classic. Both are great actors, and The Graduate is among their best work. Of course, they had a great script to work with as well. Calder Willingham and Buck Henry crafted one of the best screenplays of all time, a diamond that no erosion of time can affect. While The Graduate is dated in the 60s, the themes are timeless, etched in the history and constant present of the human condition. If you’ve never seen The Graduate, you’ve missed out on one of the best films ever made. Get to it.
DID YOU KNOW? Burt Ward had to turn down the iconic lead of Benjamin Braddock because of his role as Robin on the 60s TV show Batman. I wonder if there is some alternate reality where Ward and Hoffman switch places, and Hoffman is only remembered as Batman’s goofy sidekick. This would be a bizarre world, one mirroring the absurdity of the 60s Batman TV show.