Overview: When a young man returns home after graduating college, he find himself avoiding the pressures and expectations of his family by embarking on an affair with an older woman only to later fall in love with her daughter. 1967, distributed by Embassy Films, rated PG, 105 minutes.
Here’s To You: Everyone knows the song, even those who haven’t seen Mike Nichols’ iconic coming of age story are familiar with its premise. The late Mike Nichols put himself, and his star, Dustin Hoffman, on the map with a film that can feel both like a perfect snapshot reflection of its time and an ageless, familiar tale that resonates just as much today as it did almost 50 years ago. The Graduate’s premise, even with its dated depiction of picture-perfect suburbia and rebellious teenage angst representation a generational gap that was as perpetually wide as ever, crosses generations with its portrayal of a 20 something’s reluctance to dive into the real world, instead choosing not to choose by taking a lazy stance against ambition and making embarrassingly bad decisions.
This is a film for the millennial generation to enjoy and relate to just as much as their parents did, maybe even more so in relation to the dead and lull that pairs with the looming pressure of becoming an adult. How many of us are actually exercising our college education on a daily basis? Benjamin Braddock’s father poses the question many people my age ask themselves every time they write out that student loan check when he says, “Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that work then?” Amen, Mr. Braddock; we’re still wondering that ourselves. And while Benjamin attempts to uncover just that, we’re along for the rocky ride, discovering it right along with him.
The pacing and editing of The Graduate (thanks to the teaming up of Nichols and Sam O’Steen) coincide flawlessly with its protagonist’s journey. The first half of the film features a combination of both disjointed shots and detached fluidity to convey Benjamin Braddock’s anxiety and listlessness. In the opening scenes, Benjamin’s awkward, hesitant attempt at readjusting to his life back home and his “official” transition into adulthood is amplified (which Dustin Hoffman exhibits with gloriously oafish perfection) by the bold and brazen advances of the seductive Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Her surprisingly abrupt reveal is met with a shell-shocked Benjamin, conveyed in a series of quick back and forth shots of Mrs. Robinson’s naked body and Benjamin’s fumbling and panicked reaction, reminiscent of a sequence shot similarly in Psycho, which is quite fitting considering he can’t decide whether to be horrifying or intrigued.
As Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson crank up the heat of their affair, he subsequently becomes more detached and alienated from the expectations of the real world. A series of scenes that span a time period of months is compressed into the appearance of one fluid shot that slips between his time with Mrs. Robinson and the time he spends wasting away at his parents’ house, creating the illusion that the two places are almost indistinguishable within the haze which Benjamin exists. These various shot techniques all but disappear during the second half of the film, once Benjamin meets the adorably naive Elaine Robinson (played by Katharine Ross, who exudes just the right amount of innocence and spunk to win us all over). From this moment on, we get a straightforward, frantic race to the finish line, coinciding with Benjamin’s renewed clarity and focus.
Mrs. Robinson: While skilled film making and the intelligent, lighthearted yet sardonic crafting of a story that couples as a reflection of a time period are enough to produce a film for the ages, The Graduate takes its status one step further by creating one of the most memorable movie characters of all time. Although it’s largely Dustin Hoffman’s breakthrough that’s paired with discussions of The Graduate, it’s Anne Bancroft who dominates scene after scene, with her layers of heartbreakingly complicated motives and smoldering sadness.
Mrs. Robinson isn’t just a typical modern day cougar, looking to get her kicks on the side and then ruin lives in a fit of jealousy and anger. She’s a flawed, yet vulnerable character, who is the product of an even earlier time which trapped her in a seemingly enviable life, forced to lose sight of her passions rather than risk rebelling against the norm. She exudes sex, dominance and maturity, but really she’s just as fragile and lost as the awkward 20 year old who stares at her with shock and awe in the beginning scenes. The confident, sultry sexpot from the first half of the film is starkly different from the villainous, raw, slightly unhinged mother we see in the second half, but even both are only brief glimpses of one of the most compelling characters in film.
Overall: The late Mike Nichols’ masterpiece falls into the realm of Great in part because it manages to both show its age and remain ageless. It continues to remind us all that no matter where we are in life, we’re never too old or young to be discontent or to finally find our way, and maybe we should all sow a few wild oats while we can. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.