Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Graduate (1967)

I finally saw this movie! It only took receiving the blu-ray as a gift for my own college graduation to really propel a viewing. Eh, I can be a little slow on the "should-see list" but whatever. Based on Charles Webb's novel, The Graduate explores the anxiety and loss of motivation experienced by recent college grad Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), which quickly thrust him into an unexpected affair with Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), an old friend of his family.

A lonely and domineering alcoholic locked in a frosty marriage, Mrs Robinson finds renewal and control in her relationship with Benjamin while he is encouraged to be more relaxed and confident. He loses interest in his future and spends his free time lounging in the pool. When her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) returns home after graduating herself, Mrs Robinson forbids Benjamin from seeing her. He's forced into a date by his parents, and finds himself falling for her despite himself, which soon attracts Mrs Robinson's fury.

During my viewing of The Graduate I kept thinking "This must be Wes Anderson's favorite movie", as I found a lot of technical and tonal similarities to his work. This gave the film a sort of friendly, familiar feel, amplified by the fact that I'd already seen parts of it on television years back. The script is bursting with offbeat humor usually arising from awkward tension, but also populated with scenes of truly genuine, dramatic conversations that put the comedic moments into perspective. The soundtrack from Simon & Garfunkel suits the mood extremely well, but is used too repetitively. I'm pretty sure those guys had more than three songs.

What really stands out about this film are the strong characters embodied by excellent performances. Dustin Hoffman is perfect as the boyish, polite Benjamin who discovers massive priority shifts over the course of a summer and eventually descends into slight mania. Katharine Ross is adorable as Elaine, though she isn't given as much development. Admittedly I spent the movie rooting for the iconic Mrs Robinson, partly because she is a pretty tragic character and partly because Anne Bancroft imbues her with such strength and charisma I couldn't help but be entranced. She carries herself with such dignity and entitlement that the few times she allows her hardened exterior to crack it's truly insightful and sympathetic. In terms of screen time I know this is all about Benjamin, but I kind of wish it was the Mrs Robinson story. And I swear to god if anyone mentions the "cougar" aspects of her character I will reach through the screen and slap you.

The third act gets a bit meandering, and the repetitive music became a bit ridiculous by the end, but otherwise I was completely taken with The Graduate. It's funny and sharp and magnificently acted, with an enticing shooting style and memorable soundtrack. I know it took me forever, but now I'm totally on board with this movie! I know what to do now that I've graduated! I can't wait until my party in August, I'm totally gonna find a sexy older lady to bang for a few weeks before I start dating her goody-two-shoes daughter. And I'll find a pool to lounge in. Awesome.


Further Reading:
Encore's World of Film & TV gathers some thoughts


  1. What I thought was odd about the film is how they use Sound of Silence throughout then come in with Mrs. Robinson at the start of the final act. That, and the fact that lots of the people in the class I took in which we watched it didn't know the difference.

    Still, this is such an amazing film, and really holds up well. Especially for those like you and me who care caught in that darned inbetween area just after college, but before real jos and all that jazz.

  2. "Are you here for an affair sir?..."

    Love this flick, and as I mentioned on Encore's blog this weekend, I love the restlessness it captures when we don't quite know our next move.

    Glad to hear you finally caught it (I believe you mentioned it during our podcast) for a little bit of a double-feature, re-watch GARDEN STATE.

  3. This is also one of those classics that has slipped me by...I need to get down and watch it, awesome review!

  4. Good review Alex. This is one of my favourites. Andrew at Encore posted some of my thoughts a few days ago.

    Never noticed the repetitive music though.

  5. The best thing about this film for me is the music, though I do agree that it is a tad over-used. I usually find that moderation works best, better to have us hoping for more than wishing for less I think. Good Review Alex.

  6. Awesome review! This is also one of those classics that has slipped me by...After reading your review I can't wait and I need to get down and watch it. Free Movie

  7. My issue with the film is that it tries to celebrate the confusion and disillusionment of the boomers and then cops out at the end by basically making Ben and Elaine like their parents without making any meaningful commentary on that turn. It's just a cheap twist thrown in that these people grow up to vote for Reagan, demand stickers on albums and generally ruin everything.

    I do, however, like to watch this back-to-back with Straw Dogs so I can see Benjamin Braddock become a fascist and at least be condemned for repeating the cycle.