Instant attraction, secretive affairs, coming of age, triangle of a tale, the dejected lover, and the runaway bride—most romantic comedies have since used this formula and in the process, have produced some fine romcoms. The Graduate is no different. Released during the early era of Hollywood romantic comedies, the Graduate could be stated as a path breaking movie for its era for it immortalized the light-hearted tensions and the classic runaway bride ending that has been beaten until death since then. The evolution of romcoms from the evergreen silent movie Girl Shy (1924) to The Seven Sweethearts (1942) to The Seven Year Itch (1955) leading towards the classic Pillow Talk (1959) and the mystifying Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), the Graduate completes the continuation. The movie lies as a historically loved movie—exclusive to its time—with nimble moments, humorous performances, and textbook storytelling.
The new graduate from college, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home to his parents—celebrating his par excellence stretch in college. Nervous about his future and unsettled, Ben finds himself amidst the vivacious social circle of his parents and in one such a party, he comes across the pulsating wife of his father’s partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Somebody whom he has known since his childhood, Mrs. Robinson has sensual drives for Ben, and as Nature would have it—they start knowing each other in a complete different parcel. The daughter of Mrs. Robinson soon arrives from UCAL Berkeley and Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) alongside Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (William Daniels, Elizabeth Wilson) set up a date, for Ben, with this charming young woman, Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross). Sandwiched amidst the filths of a carnal relationship with an elderly and married woman who happens to be the mother of the girl he loves, Ben faces up to his antics and resolves to marry Elaine. The Graduate is about Ben, Mrs. Robinson, and Elaine—the unlikely triangle that has no connections with one another, yet all three are deeply associated though the chains of love and lust.
The first half of the movie is an outright comic satire focused on sexuality, lust, affairs, and the tensions and stress Ben undergoes due to the high expectations of his parents, as illustrated by his own records in college. After the coming of Elaine, the movie makes a paradigm shift from a sexually dominant one to a love theme, with the director emphasizing on the power of love over sexuality, and love as a liberating force, whilst sex as the binding chain. Precisely, for this delicate management of the story and the construction of effective scenes to protract the movie, Director Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) won the Academy Award for Best Director—admirably handling the story by Charles Webb (novel) and screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. The realism in the characterizations enriches the story and tone of the movie, with the psychology behind the actions of all the characters and their instincts that seem to be coming from within the character’s nature, showing an inner battle in each of the major characters, and their responses being in line with the original portrayals of the characters themselves.
The Graduate encompasses strong thematic philosophies beneath the subtle wit and comedy. The strongest of the themes are those of sexual revolution, rebellion, and the first sightings of American youth that would hover around aimlessly, without purpose or direction—an omen to the impending era of the hippies. Released during the highly unpredictable decade of the Swinging Sixties, with freedom and liberation at its peak, and just before the total rebellion of the 70s, The Graduate shows the path of American youth, whilst hip and cool, but lost in the glory of the shine—in search for a new philosophy, a way of living. The character of Ben is the archetypical man of those times—confused, lost, without much ambition, and reclusive in his own world. Mrs. Robinson, the lone wife without much of a relationship with her husband, she lives under the chasms of alcohol in search for a companion that she finds in young Ben. Elaine, the most positive force of the story, she is energetic, simple, and knows herself very well, unlike Ben or Mrs. Robinson. Three completely different personalities collide and the other characters ignite them to bring the worse out of each other and to learn how life is all about moments and not the past or the future—just moments.
Despite its cult status—not just in terms of likeability but the box office success as well—The Graduate has numerous factors working against it. Chiefly, the movie’s concept has been overdone over the years, which why the movie may not stand test of time as some other movies of the past have. A beautiful movie, no doubt, yet because it was one of the first of its kinds, today’s generation may find The Graduate a story that they have read and seen on numerous occasions. Nonetheless, it still gives the vibes of an original classic that had content as well as perfect presentation. In terms of performances, the performances are unreal and realistic at the same time, especially Dustin Hoffman as Ben and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. With that said, Dustin Hoffman was around 30 when he assumed the role of Ben here, when the character is of age 20/21 in the movie. At times, Hoffman looks at ease playing a 21-year-old college graduate, especially his mannerisms and facial expressions—the nervousness of a boy entering the world of men—it’s top notch in expression, value, and sincerity. At other times, Hoffman looks too old to be convincing as a 21 year old—not due to anything else; his face does not seem to be that fresh. Notwithstanding such trifles, Hoffman does a prolific job in convincing viewers of the mental dilemma in the first half and the rock headed lover boy in the second half of the movie.
The one fact that keeps the movie from the likes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s could be the penultimate drama, when Elaine finds of Ben’s affair with her mom. From that point on, viewers would feel anticipating the eventual reunion between the two lovers than pulsating into the drama and expectancy before the union. The movie might as well end there for some because everything treads an obvious path, with even the dramatics behind the expected not managing to roar louder in some way or the other. The climax does justify it all—as the movie started the trend of such climaxes and it has to stand as one of the most moving climaxes in film history, especially for romcoms.
When it comes to romcoms, the music/background score dare never disappoint—typically, the highpoint of the movie. The title track by Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence,” captures the mood of the movie straight into the net. The lyrical advancement reveals the state of all three central characters, and the background score by Paul Simon with additional music by Dave Grusin—The Graduate presents an absolute graduation feat of musical liberty. A heart-warming movie, with ample moments of humor, joy, and amusement, The Graduate is akin to a river flowing—graceful in its own swift manner and celebrating the hearts of viewers. The Sounds of Silence, undeniably!
Image Credit – Noctis Mag, AMC TV, Rial To Pictures, Flickr