The Graduate review by Tom Blain
"Just one word: Plastics"
The Graduate has become a sort of rite of passage over the years. Those students getting far enough in college that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel are handed the keys to this little film to see what life has in store for them... well not entirely. For those of us who were approaching the tunnel, not knowing what to expect on the other side, or not being ready for the other side The Graduate seems to have become a movie of identification even after almost 40 years. So why has it held up so long with the constantly changing finiky youth?
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is at a crossroads in his life. He has just graduated college which for most means he has just grown up and reached adulthood. The problem is Benjamin is too immature to know how to handle it. He is a little "worried about his future." Meanwhile his upperclass, conservative parents have everything planned out for him: graduate school, good job, along with a wife and a family of his own. As far as they are concerned ole Benjamin is right on course, but the problem is its not a path of his own choice and he is starting to realize it. From the opening scenes you can see how tight their hold is on Benjamin by the claustrophobic camera shots at his graduation party. Everyone at the party is a friend of his parents which apparently makes them a friend of his, but he barely knows them past their last name and occupation.
Enter Mrs. Robinson, probably the most interesting character in film history not to have a first name. She talks to Benjamin a notch below all the congradulations and accolades but still at a level where she tunes him out almost completely. You can tell she doesnt really fit in at the party either. She sits alone at the party, looking quite bored until she sees her escape. Benjamin takes her back to her place and we hear repeat one of the movie's most famous quotes "Mrs. Robinson you're trying to seduce me."
On one level this movie is about Benjamin acheiving his independence. He is struggling to become his own person and make his own decisions apart from what his parents have laid out for him. Attending graduate school was not his choice, nor does finding a job. When he is told that he can't see Elaine, it becomes his goal. She is his youthful identification but more than that she is the forbidden fruit. Both of her parents forbid Ben to see her. They tell him, in fact, that she wil soon be married and it becomes his battle to win her back.
But on a more interesting level is Mrs Robinson's quest for her lost youth. Often we see her as smooth and in control of the situations around her. Why wouldn't she be? Ben is completely lost. Her angle in the affair seems to be straightforward at first. She admits that she is attracted to Ben and it appears that she is unhappy with her alcoholic husband. The scene where they are in bed together chatting she begins to reveal more about her background. She almost falls into a trance when talking about her life in college before she was married. Ben also finds out that she and Mr. Robinson sleep in different beds and that more interestingly she concieved Elaine when she was rather young. To her, the flings with Benjamin are a source of rejuvanation. Mrs. Robinson is getting back in touch with her lost. She is unhappy with her life, and her husband and Bejamin provides her only escape.
When the idea of Benjamin and Elaine comes into the picture Mrs. Robinson lashes out at Benjamin. Why? Benjamin claims its because she thinks Elaine is too good for him. This is not the case. The Braddocks and the Robinsons are obviously close. The real reason is because Mrs. Robinson doesn't want to come to the realization that she is no longer a girl in her 20s. She doesn't want to lose the fountain of youth she has with Ben. Mrs. Robinson is obviously jealous over her daughter's youth and freedom. In the final wedding scene you can see the first actual verbal exchange on camera between the two; its not pretty.
The final scene is a great wrap to the movie. I watched this with a friend once who was livid when they got on the bus and just sat there. No hugs, no kiss. After the adrenaline fades, they sit there like an old couple who have grown apart from each other. They smile a little bit, look ahead and look around, but never at each other. Elaine and Ben seem a bit lost after their glorious exit from the marriage. But where do they go from there? They don't know. I saw an interview with Mike Nichols, the director of The Graduate, and he was asked, where he thought Elaine and Benjamin go from there if they got married? He said they will probably end up just like their parents. So much for their youthful revolution. But you can tell by the looks on their faces on that final scene that if they stay with each other they probably have no alternative.
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