Graduate, The (1967)
Release Date: December 22nd, 1967 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Mike Nichols Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton
year-old Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just arrived home for a party to celebrate his graduation from college. The house is crowded with people he’d rather not mingle with; he’s flustered about his future and the many expectations from friends, parents, and colleagues. Attaining the position of captain of the cross-country team, head of the debate club, managing editor of the college newspaper, and conqueror of many other academic achievements, hasn’t helped him mentally prepare for the stresses of entering manhood and selecting a career path.
When friend of the family, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), asks Ben to drive her home, she swiftly attempts to seduce him – giving him liquor, privacy in her lonely mansion, and plenty of opportunities as she undresses and traps him in her daughter’s bedroom. He’s rescued by the arrival of Mr. Robinson, his father’s law partner, coming home earlier than expected. Before Ben departs, Mrs. Robinson informs him that she’s available for an affair any time he’s feeling up to it. Despite having known her throughout his childhood, and being understandably nervous about seeing a woman twice his age (“I think you’re the most attractive of all my parent’s friends”), he (naturally!) decides to call her for a sexual rendezvous. Things become even more complicated when he’s pressured by his parents to take Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) on a date; his judgmental bedmate forbids the action, eventually revealing that she believes Ben isn’t good enough for Elaine.
“The Graduate” is one of those rare films so heavily influenced by its song-filled soundtrack (an element absent from most films prior to the ‘60s) that it is inseparable in mind and in reference. Perhaps the film is even better known for the Simon & Garfunkel tunes than the Mrs. Robinson temptation facet. It’s a product of the time and a significant artistic experiment that combines strong drama, outrageously hilarious comedy, and a singular love story – one so contorted that it seems edgy, implausible, exciting, and perfectly cinematic all at the same time.
Even from the opening shot (after the credits), it’s apparent that the cinematography (framing, close-ups, editing) and dialogue are tinged with something peculiar and undeniably unique. The camera peers through a fish tank, from inside a closet, looks up from the floor off kilter, lingers behind shadows, repeats the same movements from different angles, cuts rapidly, takes the shape of a scuba mask, keeps its distance during certain sequences and becomes uncomfortably invasive at others, and makes full use of the widescreen aspect ratio. It’s even unexpectedly lighted almost like film noir. Scenes transition seamlessly together as if characters walk directly from one set onto another; at times it’s as if Ben is in multiple environments simultaneously. Even dialogue overlaps to further the idea of symbolic scene shifts. An attention to contemplative eyes is also evident, with emotions being explained through little more than a daydreaming gaze or cruel stares, with complementarily swelling music at the ready.
Anne Bancroft is sensational as the powerful, seductive, commanding woman who knows what she wants and is prepared to do anything to get her way. Her manipulation is riveting, utilizing her sexuality and Ben’s inexperience for momentary satisfaction and then revenge; in a way, she’s a terrifying villainess – one that is both enticing as a fantasy perception and numbing as a realistic, calculating adversary. Hoffman is also in top form, demonstrating his range, naïveté, and charisma by battling the relatable, timeless confusions of entering adulthood and handling prospects, success, failure, disappointment, rebellion, and wasted potential. The script truly allows the actors to shine, with unequalled humor leading the way (employing subtleties in background elements and obvious double entendres), and an obsessive, momentous drive to overcome the seemingly insurmountable hurdles that keep true love apart. In the end, the climax is a tumultuous, energetic, even physical combating of authority, righteousness, predictability, and austere instruction.
– Mike Massie