I’m probably going to get into my more self-indulgent mode when I’m talking about something like this but it’s necessary when I want to talk about a film like The Graduate. I once wrote in a personal diary entry that at certain points of my life where I just have absolutely nothing, I’m simply Benjamin Braddock. It feels especially reasonable as I feel I’m only living in a world where all I see are nothing but different age groups failing to understand what it is defining what satisfies another. This is a film that understands the loneliness in one’s life and how the outside world just comes in and interferes.
From the opening alone, we get an idea of how Benjamin Braddock is a man who is so disconnected from the outside world. After having graduated from college, we get the idea he is unsure for himself. He responds without much emotion, as he is uncomfortable with expressing himself in a manner without leaving his elders upset. From this moment onward, I knew that Benjamin Braddock was a character that was simply one that I would so easily connect with. I’ve spent most of my life a rather introverted individual and social communications with the outside world generally are not so comfortable.
Another hint of The Graduate‘s brilliance arises from the soundtrack. Not only is it a wonderful collection from the always wonderful Simon & Garfunkel, but it is also brilliant in a sense that it is a reflection of what Benjamin Braddock is feeling. The film starts up with “The Sound of Silence,” a song which so perfectly encapsulates how isolated he is from the world. In another scene, we have “April Come She Will” used as a manner to represent the fast passing of time and his lack of readiness. Mike Nichols’s use of the soundtrack is some of the most clever that the time can present, as not only does it create a very iconic cue but just how it reflects our protagonist’s state of mind is where part of the genius from The Graduate comes in.
Benjamin Braddock is not a man who seems to feel normal, but there’s a reflection based on his interactions with other people that makes The Graduate all the more relevant today. The social commentary that Mike Nichols adds into quite a film like this which only became more noticeable on this viewing just simply adds more to form one of the most intelligent American films of its period. There’s a reflection upon how Mike Nichols is creating his own statement on the generational divide, for how at times we think we understand the intentions of another age group, yet obviously we are failing.
Mrs. Robinson is another fascinating character in this scenario, she is clearly trying to pull Benjamin Braddock towards herself upon their first encounter, in which she is obviously seducing him. The alienation that can be felt as we observe the interactions between the two only creates for a more fascinating experience, as the crafting of Benjamin’s character arc through these interactions only forms a protagonist who perhaps has a lot more to say than what we may be left to see on the outside. When I hear that some would accuse Anne Bancroft’s performance for being sexist in terms of how she plays a cougar role to Benjamin Braddock, I can’t help but find myself disagreeing because what I read instead is how an older generation is attempting to force a different kind to become one of them, and the differing breed recognizes he does not fit in, bringing out a feeling of awkwardness.
Yet there’s a reason we feel Benjamin’s alienation – it’s because there’s a specific moment in our lives in which we are fearing for our own futures because there are so many possibilities from the many paths to choose, it overwhelms us at this critical moment. In the beginning, we see that he is clearly hiding it, because he is still attempting to figure out his own self. When he meets Elaine, he suddenly goes from this attempt at hiding to just running forward to an area where he still has no idea of certainty. It’s through the character of Benjamin Braddock where The Graduate acts as a criticism upon how an older generation keeps forcing their youth into an uncertain future. This awkwardness is so perfectly captured on the screen by the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross, both of whom offer career bests.
There’s a specific question left by the end, in which we return back to Benjamin reflecting upon what he’s done in the past. Here, I feel something more powerful results. It is established that Benjamin feels most comfortable especially when he is around Elaine, but the facial expressions afterward do not imply happiness. With the commentary that has been established prior, we’ve come back to a moment in which even with a result we think we’re comfortable with, it’s still something we fear as there’s still no certainty to it lasting as long as we would wish. I feel that’s where so much more of The Graduate‘s power comes in. This would already appear a cheesy romantic comedy if the camera didn’t linger upon the faces of Elaine and Benjamin riding away, because the nature of the ending is cued thanks to “The Sound of Silence” once more, which is not a happy song. There’s that point in our youth where we think everything will go okay, but soon we come to a resentful thought, which shows The Graduate‘s power under its shell, for a comedy suddenly takes a depressing route.
Only recently I have discovered that there are people who say that The Graduate is a time capsule that reflects the 60’s without much relevance today, to which I highly disagree. The Graduate on the outside is a coming-of-age dramedy, but seeing what it comes off as there is where brilliance comes in, because even though we may not understand the result, we are called to dig in much more. As a coming-of-age narrative, it’s extremely relatable from a perspective like myself, to a point it even brought me to tears. On the inside, it’s a clever commentary on the ignorance from generational divide and it’s truly one of the most intelligent films of its time. I feel for Benjamin Braddock, yet maybe that’s because I’m still in that state of life now, I just don’t know what I’m to do with where I am. Timely it may seem, but it certainly feels very timeless. This is truly one of the greatest American films, one of the most important films of its era. For all I know, the impact that The Graduate has left upon me is something that will never escape me – for it will always remain as one of my favourite films and a film that defines me as I am. I adore everything about The Graduate from start to finish, and it will be something I shall continue to cherish over the many years which I will spend living on this planet.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via MGM/UA.
Directed by Mike Nichols
Screenplay by Calder Willingham, Buck Henry, from the novel by Charles Webb
Produced by Lawrence Turman
Starring Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross
Release Year: 1967
Running Time: 108 minutes