Title: The Graduate
Release Date: December 21, 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Production Company: Lawrence Turman Productions
I first watched The Graduate some time in the mid-90s because, along with Easy Rider, it is said to be an emblematic of the Baby Boomer generation. Watching it then, I felt that Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) seemed more representative of my own generation, at a time when we were being called “The Slacker Generation.” Watching it now, though, I think there is a feeling of directionless many people experience in their 20s that transcends generations. My other impression of the movie was that it wasn’t very funny and I didn’t like it.
Watching it now, I realize the problem I had with The Graduate is that it makes me deeply uncomfortable, which is something that a good movie can do. I wrote in my review of M*A*S*H that there were a lot of positives of the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and 70s, but sometimes there was a push to be transgressive which crossed the line from health to unhealthy sexual expression. The seduction of Benjamin by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is extremely creepy, almost predatory. Later in the film, Benjamin becomes a creepy stalker in his pursuit of Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross). I’m never convinced that Benjamin actually loves Elaine, he’s just looking for a way to escape the rut he’s captured in, and I think the film actually supports this interpretation. As for Elaine, watching her respond positively to Benjamin is like watching a camp counselor in a slasher film enter the creepy house where I want to shout at the screen “NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?”
The Graduate is an extremely well-made film. I particularly like the the montage of Benjamin schlubbing around his house intercut with scenes of his assignations with Mrs. Robinson. The acting is all around terrific, and Anne Bancroft’s performance in the scene where Benjamin presses Mrs. Robinson about her past is magnificent. Simon & Garfunkel’s music for the film, while repetitive (although not as repetitive as Midnight Cowboy), is perfectly synched to the movie, and I especially like the part where Simon’s guitar strumming peters out when Benjamin’s car runs out of gas. The final sequence of the movie is ludicrously unbelievable, but it’s still very funny (and was brilliantly spoofed in Wayne’s World II). Something I didn’t notice or didn’t remember from my previous viewing is that when Benjamin and Elaine get on the bus their smiles and laughter slowly turn to looks of confusion, as if they’re thinking “What now?” I never thought there was a happy future for Benjamin and Elaine and their expressions in the final shot confirm it.
Want to know something weird? When filming this movie, Anne Bancroft was only 36 years old, joining Vivien Leigh and Gloria Swanson among actresses playing characters who are treated as older than themselves. Granted, Mrs. Robinson had a teenage pregnancy, so it’s entirely possible that she have a child in college at Bancroft’s age. But here’s something weirder: Katharine Ross is less than 9 years younger than Bancroft! Weirder still? Hoffman is only SIX YEARS younger than Bancroft. The leads in this intergenerational comedy were all born in the same decade!
So, I think I like The Graduate a lot more than I did on my previous viewing, but I don’t love it. I guess I’ll check in again in another 25 years, and who knows!