The Graduate (1967)

the grad

**** (all thanks to Anne)

The Graduate is Anne Bancroft, so to speak. Dustin Hoffman might play the eponymous character but it is Bancroft who carries the weight of the film, when it has any. Playing the part of the bored recovered alcoholic housewife Mrs Robinson, Bancroft seduces Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock to feel alive. It’s a rush for her, one that doesn’t require conversation to maintain. She dismisses Braddock’s attempts at getting to know her initially and then allows herself to speak, more as self-reflection rather than having any connection with Braddock.

Mrs Robinson is the most perceptive character, writing off her pretentious and self-deluded husband and seeing Benjamin as aimless, in need of some type of direction. In no way is she taking advantage of him but she is also ensuring she is not taken advantage of. Interestingly, she warns Benjamin, even makes him promise, not to take her daughter Elaine (played by Katherine Ross) out. At first we see this as jealousy, but as the film progresses perhaps it is foresight as Mrs Robinson might know exactly the type of person Benjamin is.

It is when the story shifts to Benjamin’s “love” for Elaine Robinson that it grinds to a halt and turns into farce. Benjamin is annoying at first. He is a gifted student whose form of rebellion manifests not in his awkward dalliances with Mrs Robinson but in his willingness to do nothing else except sunbath in the backyard pool. His parents are presented as squares who have put their son on a pedestal and expect him to follow the path laid before him. This culminates in a scene where Benjamin tries out a new present in front of family friends – a scuba set. It is here we get our unintentional respite from Benjamin as he sits at the bottom of the pool as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” plays, Benjamin reflecting on his life and situation and we enjoying the absence of Benjamin’s voice.

Elaine is barely developed as a character and the little parts we do see are not great. As Benjamin is moving from annoying to downright creepy with his insistence on being with Elaine, Elaine is becoming a very submissive character. It’s hard to imagine a daughter running off with the man who broke up her parent’s marriage, even if it is lazily and poorly played off as the mother’s fault. Added to this is that Elaine and Benjamin spend very little time together before they make this decision. Is this youthful exuberance or just two stupid people, one possibly a little crazy?

The ending sequence seems to be there purely for suspense but can’t save itself from being farcical. Fighting off hordes of people and then locking them in a church with a cross so you can literally run away with the bride is as far out there as most films will go. The problem with this ending is that the beginning sets such a different tone that it doesn’t make much sense to include this unless you want to say that the affair between Benjamin and Mrs Robinson is just as unlikely. Perhaps it is, given what a bore Benjamin turns out to be.

The irony that Benjamin falls for the girl who his parents insist he take out should not be lost on the audience, however unintentional it is. This is a clear indication that what made Benjamin different was solely Mrs Robinson and not something that resides within himself. We can be sure that Benjamin will ride an unoriginal path after the credits roll, something he may have realised going by the look on his face.