The Graduate (1967)
Dustin Hoffman stars as Benjamin Braddock, who recently completed his undergrad and is deciding what to do with his life. The film begins at the Braddock’s home in California where his parents are throwing him a graduation party. Embarrassed, frustrated, uncomfortable, he escapes and stares at his fish. Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) – wife of Ben’s father’s law partner and family friend, she also doesn’t have a first name apparently – finds Ben hiding. Asks him for a ride home… asks him in the house… offers him a drink… turns on music… starts taking off her clothes…. “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” Ben’s a little taken aback by these advances of a 40 somethin’ year old woman and panics his way out of the house. But with no direction, he doesn’t stay horrified for long. He soon arranges their first rendez-vous at a hotel and their affair awkwardly begins.
He’s basically living the life. Sun bathing and piña coladas in the pool by day… meeting the woman at night. In one of their rare discussions, Mrs. Robinson forbids Ben to ever date her college-aged daughter, Elaine. Ben’s reluctant to promise anything but doesn’t care much for the Robinson daughter so he agrees. Too bad his parents do care. They coerce him into taking her out when she returns from Berkley. With his affair between Mrs. R completely over, and despite his initial efforts to ruin their date, he starts to fall for the cute, full of life Elaine. I’ll let you imagine where that might lead.
The great thing about The Graduate is that it takes its time. One of the best scenes in the movie is a simple conversation between Mrs. Robinson and Ben. The scene is quite long with many pauses, but it is one of the greatest crafted scenes I have ever seen. Ben is flustered with their exclusively physical relationship, and starts asking questions to Mrs. Robinson. We glimpse his eyes grow with wonder, we watch her eyes fill with pain. There’s so much sadness and so much growth. Needless to say the script is impeccable. Witty, satirical, but deep.
The rest of the movie is developed in a similar fashion. The pacing is greatly due to the music of good ol’ Paul and Art. “The Sounds of Silence” is so perfect for the movie (as, of course, is “Mrs. Robinson”) and there are many scenes with nothing but. It miraculously never drags. Ben drives to see Elaine…. Ben slowly sinks in his pool, full of apprehension (great moment)… Ben lying in his pool… very little action. I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel, but I never knew they were this cool. The sounds of silence can speak so much louder than dialogue.
The Graduate is primarily a comedy – the script is evidence of that.
Ben: “Where’d you do it?”
Mrs. Robinson: “In his car.”
Ben: “What kind of car was it?”
Mrs. Robinson: “Come on now.”
Ben: “No, I really want to know.”
Mrs. Robinson: “A Ford.”
Ben: [laughs] “That’s great. So Elaine Robinson got started in a Ford…”
It’s a funny movie, but it’s not just funny. It’s a character study. It makes you laugh, but I’d mostly say that it makes you smile at the realism. The second half of the movie is greatly different from the first, its dynamic changes as Benjamin changes. His and our attentions shift to Elaine, and his pursuit to win her over. (Some great scenes there too… man I could rave about this whole movie scene by scene if I really wanted to).
Good acting? Check. For me, it’s weird to think that Dustin Hoffman hasn’t always been the top dawg in his business. I mean, this is the guy that did Rain Man, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, All the President’s Men… He’s been “the man” my whole life. But nobody knew Dustin then. Everyone knew Dustin after Benjamin Braddock. Even without D. Hoffman, though, Anne Bancroft is sensational. You hate her, you feel sorry for her. The rest of the acting is solid as well, mainly Katherine Ross.
This film was one of the few to win the Best Director Oscar and not Best Picture. Mike Nichols is the man. It was nominated for basically everything else, though, including Cinematography (excellent – a constant visual treat) and Screenplay (also excellent).
And how ’bout that end? The wedding crash to top all wedding crashes. “It’s too late.” “Not for me!” (Granted, that IS a relationship I’d love to see in the future… how could YOU handle being with someone that had slept with your mother?)
I can’t rave enough. With these acclaimed classics that I’d never seen, it’s difficult sometimes to figure out if you love it because you know you should love it, or if you actually love it. I didn’t want to hand out a 10/10 just to conform. But the more I thought about it, the fewer things I disliked. This movie is excellent on all fronts, and truly should be considered a classic. 10/10