The Graduate, dir. Mike Nicholas, 1967 (4.5/5 stars)
The first time I saw The Graduate, it was on my tiny, long-retired television screen. It was one of the best movies I've ever seen. Perhaps the most entertaining motion picture I've ever witnessed. At thirteen years old, I already related to Benjamin Braddock's sense of disillusionment, confusion, and indecisiveness. I had an impaired sense of judgment, much like Ben. I did not know where to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I just wanted to sit around all day, contemplating, searching for a definite route in life. I've always been a little ahead of the game, but somehow, it just seems like I've wasted all that time on thinking without any meaningful action.
The Graduate is also one of the most important movies ever made about the exterior glories of youth and the inner time bomb that probes the core of youth. It's simply timeless. But I'm rather bipolar about its wonders. My second viewing somewhat plagues me with the question, "Why is Benjamin Braddock such a creep?" But there's this unexplainable, puppy dog charm to his strange, and sometimes stalkerish antics.
One of the charms of The Graduate is that it uses music to express the characters' senses of confusion and temptation. Mike Nichol's groundbreaking 1967 film not only left a mark in the world of American comedy, but it also used music as a cinematic device to its fullest potential. I don't want to over-exaggerate or anything, but without The Graduate, I doubt we would have those monumental music-within-a-nonmusical-movie moments in later films. Thanks to this film, I was introduced to the music of Simon & Garfunkel. "The Sound of Silence" haunted me, like blind ghosts stuck forever on a clothes hanger. To this day, it still does. And the world of cinema was taught how to properly inject a little bit of pop into their primary medium.
The film's plot spotlights the awkward, nervous, and bored Ben (Dustin Hoffman). Ben recently graduated from college with a bachelor's degree and track star fame attached to his name. He's a golden boy of sorts: everyone wants to what the future has in store of young Ben. But it's the old family friend, Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft) who sees a different kind of potential in Ben. Mrs. Robinson attempts to seduce him and succeeds. The two begin a vacuous affair, built on evening meetings at the local hotel. When Ben's family forces him to take out the Robinsons' college-aged daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), Ben seriously falls for her. In result, he must face Mrs. Robinson's raging disapproval.
Most of the time, I cheer for Ben. I want things to turn out well for him. But my conscience tells me he's a real creep. (Roger Ebert also describes Ben as a "creep," perhaps for slightly different reasons.) There is something completely unlikable about Ben. He's a social underdog, for sure, but he's a quietly despicable social underdog. People like him don't get anywhere in life. At the end of the day, guys like Ben may have won the girl, but things will be completely different in another month. The girl would've faced reality by then. Ben is alert when he finds purpose in life, but when he captures the reward, he doesn't know what to do with it. He's one of those guys who knows how to kill a man, but won't know where to dispose the body. That's Ben in a nutshell.
Hoffman is perfectly cast in this role. I want to hate Ben, but I don't. Hoffman plays Ben like a guy who's completely lost at sea and uncomfortable not only with his sexuality, but with the purpose of his mere existence. Hoffman can also deliver some excellent aw-shucks humor and convince that he's serious about his ridiculously awkward antics. The opening scene sums it all up: Hoffman has that amazing blank look on his face: slightly nervous, yet strangely, a bit hopeful. Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" blares in the background.
Benjamin Braddock is one of those characters that has cemented Hoffman as a credible actor after all these years. Here's a breakthrough performance at its ripest. I would say that Hoffman's performance in this film acts as the very foundation to his decades-long, tremendously successful film career.
But Mrs. Robinson is an entirely different story. She's manipulative and conniving, yet sexy and alive. She's this middle-aged woman, confined to the boring limitations of a domestic servant to the California suburbs. If she lived in a more modern day and age, life would have been brighter for her. I deeply resent Mrs. Robinson, although I do sympathize with her unfortunate circumstances. Bancroft plays Mrs. Robinson as an untouched enigma, which makes the character both fascinating and horrific at once. And Bancroft, in her late thirties, still looked like a golden goddess.
I hate Ben and Mrs. Robinson. I love Ben and Mrs. Robinson. It depends on my mood. When I'm cynical and depressed, Ben and Mrs. Robinson are my heroes. When I feel absolutely fine and sedated, Ben and Mrs. Robinson are devilish tools.
But Nichols does consciously showcase the playfully satirical aspects of The Graduate. The film is a surprisingly insightful look at the late-sixties, youth, counterculture, the American suburbs, the American Dream, aging, college, lust, and love. What are they? What are their purposes? What are their functions? Does it all matter?
I've watched The Graduate with my mom and my English class on two separate occasions. Both my mom and my English class seem to think this famous little classic is "weird." Okay, I'm just going on a limb about my entire English class, but my mom actually said it. Apparently it's hard to explain why exactly she feels that way. She just does.
My mom is rather repulsed by Ben's actions. She thinks Ben is one of the most filthy, disgusting cinematic characters she's ever seen on screen. And she's seen quite a few movies, many of which includes gory violence and rape. I certainly don't understand her deep resentment for Ben, but it's there.
My English class is supposed to connect The Graduate to the general idea of existentialism. Does Ben make his own decisions? How does he execute his existential way of thinking? No matter. But did they like the film? My friend said he thought it was "weird" as well.
My English class just finished viewing the film on Friday. From this particular viewing, I conclude that it is one of the most entertaining motion pictures ever made. It's mostly due to that hilariously suspenseful climatic scene, where I observe the clueless hero chase the current girl of his dreams. But that still doesn't stop me from feeling the great urge to punch Ben in the face. Or wonder what the hell he and Elaine are going to go after they take off in that yellow bus. But I do wish everything works out for everyone involved. As much as I feel this heavy disdain for the characters in The Graduate, I want things to work out well for them. Perhaps this way, they'd feel less troubled and I'd like them more, even though I won't see their journey to a brighter path. I mean, at least I want things to be okay for them, you know what I mean?
There's a possibility that I may hate this movie again once I think everything through. But for now, it's as terrific as I want it to be.