Few films have defined a generation as much as The Graduate did. The alienation, the nonconformity, the intergenerational romance, the blissful Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack--they all served to lob a cultural grenade smack into the middle of 1967 America, ultimately making the film the third most profitable up to that time. Seen from a later perspective, its radical chic has dimmed a bit, yet it's still a joy to see Dustin Hoffman's bemused Benjamin and Anne Bancroft's deliciously decadent, sardonic Mrs Robinson. The script by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham is still... offbeat and dryly funny and Mike Nichols, who won an Oscar for his direction, has just the right, light touch. --Anne Hurley, Amazon.com [show more]
I have to confess that I found the premise of the film rather appealing: Agonisingly nervous recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock is trapped into an affair with the rapacious, seductive and alcoholic Mrs Robinson, who happens to be the wife of his father's business partner and then finds himself falling in love with her teenage daughter, Elaine. The Graduate is the benchmark for every inter-generational relationship film made since. It tends to live in my imagination and probably the vast majority of the male public largely because it conjures up images of cheeky forbidden fantasies regarding older women the world over. Barring Mrs Robinson herself, played by the magnificent Anne Bancroft, the picture was a major let down for me. In fact she was that good I wish the film was called Mrs Robinson and focused more on her since she was far more interesting a person compared to Benjamin Braddock.
Primordial Generation X-er Benjamin who wears his heart on his sleeve, is a bit of a hangdog loner and loser in equal measure. He returns, having graduated from an East Coast College, to a ferociously stupid, upper-middle-class California suburb that he reluctantly calls home. Adulthood and the future beckons but he needs time and space to think things through. Unable to achieve this in the confines of his world, he can literally only float. Family and their social circle demand that he perform the role of successful, young, upward-venturing, clean-cut, all-American college grad. Not long after, Benjamin's frustrations are brilliantly shown in a hilariously ridiculous but wonderfully crafted scene where he demonstrates a new scuba diving outfit - at another one of many vile parental shindigs - bought as a birthday present by proud dad, by standing at the bottom of the family swimming pool. The isolation we see here acts as a recurring metaphor involving Benjamin being alone at last, separated and away from the suffocating and claustrophobic atmosphere of the West Coast stockbroker belt. As a result of Benjamin's weariness and disbelief, rather than an attraction to Mrs Robinson, she ends up seducing him. What they both have in common within their community is outright boredom.
To give some more credit where it's due, Dustin Hoffman who plays Benjamin, is so painfully awkward and ethical that he lends some credibility to the way in which his character acts. His disassociation and disaffection from the wealthy vacuum-packed world of the old folk who still rule the roost is extremely palpable. This is also given added strength by the striking cinematography that's clearly cutting-edge for it's time with fish-bowl juxtapositions, dappled light and pensive close-ups, even though the world we appear to be in is in actual fact trapped in a Fifties hangover, thus highlighting the old fashioned, staid and oddly demanding nature of Benjamin's parents' generation. Having said that, Hoffman's performance appears pretty farcical because his excessive awkwardness and at times, rash behaviour - taking out Elaine to a strip show - makes you wonder what on earth Mrs Robinson was doing sleeping with this geek and how the film made a star out of the actor with the same dizzying heights as his he-men contemporaries like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Perhaps it was that suggested vulnerability but I didn't buy it. Or perhaps it was the confusion in the character struggling between being self-absorbed and yet ethical, that gave me mixed messages and therefore made me dislike this angsty loafer called Benjamin.
Anne Bancroft is the star of the show, effortlessly stealing every scene that she's in as the sexy, shrewish and self-possessed Mrs Robinson, an embittered woman suffocating amongst the buttoned-down platitudes of her suburban deadzone. She plays the saviour, vampire-like parasite and devil so perfectly, you couldn't imagine anyone else being Mrs Robinson. She delivers a dark-hearted character consumed by self-loathing, armoured in cool cynicism. In and amongst a party that is a smear of cloying and meaningless chit chat from the gauche neighbourhood zombies, she stands out to Benjamin like a sore thumb. To play such a multifaceted character shifting from tragic to malicious is no mean feat. She represents what her daughter Elaine and lover Benjamin could become unless they do something about their mundane existence. "It's too late, " she growls at a fleeing Elaine. "Not for me!" she responds.
Elaine is played by Katharine Ross who was blessed with the ideal American sweetheart looks for this part, a symbol of rescue for Benjamin but that's where the praise ends. Her acting is so weak in comparison to the weighty performance of Bancroft that the film ends up being very broken-backed. Part of her failure to impress as an actress is the script. Benjamin falls in love with his seducer's daughter, setting in motion a fantastically unrealistic chain of events. The film dismisses the affair as quite easily forgivable from Elaine's point of view and in trying to make her elusive and angelic, also makes her appear very stupid, especially when Mrs Robinson starts spreading rumours that Benjamin raped her. With such serious allegations being made the film appears to ignore these and drives forward in a whimsical attempt to liberate its protagonist as he tries to save Elaine from the clutches of mediocrity.
The final items worth mentioning about the film are firstly its Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. Whilst not to my own personal taste, the songs lend weight to the isolation and yearning that the protagonist feels in the film, firmly fixing his state of mind. It's certainly relevant and not diverting. There's also a brilliant performance by Murray Hamilton as Mr Robinson, a great character actor who would be familiar to Jaws fans as the obdurate Amity Island mayor. Whilst I was watching the film, I also recognised the voice of KITT the car from Knight Rider, belonging to William Daniels who plays Benjamin's father.
The film's ending is worth waiting for, though it may be disappointing for some. There's a memorable moment near this ending where Benjamin jams a cross into a church door to prevent an angry mob of old folk getting a hold of him and Elaine as they try to escape from their jaws, clearly an attack on the church. It's no fairytale climax but more of an uncertain voyage into the future. The irony of the Graduate is that the lesson Benjamin ultimately learns is one that the old folks were telling him in the first place, that he should find a nice girl his own age!
Not many films can deliver as much critical acclaim as it does commercial success, but The Graduate is not like many films. The lead charcter (Ben) has just graduated and has returned home looking for direction and purpose in his life, not quite sure if the path he is following is the one he actually wants. Set against the backdrop of 1967 suburbian middle-class America, The Graduate tells a compelling story of a boy's graduation to manhood and all that it entails. Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) uses Ben to alleviate the boredom in her own life, and in some small way recapture the essence of her lost youth. As with all great stories people change as do situationstoo, and when Mrs Robinson's daughter (Katherine Cross) comes onto the scene, Ben discovers clarity in his thoughts and a genuine purpose. Moments of great comedy intertwined with heartfelt drama and empathy of lives lost in direction, make this film a classic cinematic piece. Bubble-wrapped in a haunting Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, this film defined a generation and set the benchmark for great comedy dramas.
We will publish your review of The Graduate  on DVD within a few days as long as it meets our guidelines.
None of your personal details will be passed on to any other third party.