The Graduate (1967)

Some movies I end up seeing just because they’re “classics”. I suspect I’m not going to like them and—well, in fairness, I have been surprised more than once in the past year-and-a-half. But there’s not much about The Graduate that has ever recommended itself to me, and in part I feel like certain movies are just “classics” because they appeal to a certain cohort (i.e. Boomers). I mean, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross are good-looking. Dustin Hoffman can act.

Sure, she can act, too.
Pictured: Easy on the eyes.

Oh, the soundtrack. Yeah, that’s a pretty good soundtrack, though (I say with no small amount of trepidation as a fan of said music) I’m not sure it holds up as well as one might hope. It’s certainly well used here, but it is very, very dated. I don’t know: There’s nothing inherently wrong with old music, even if it’s highly stylized, but the music of that particular era could be rather insistent, and one perhaps wonders if “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” survives post-60s all that well. And I love (and routinely play) Simon’s arrangement of “Scarborough Fair” but does the anti-war counter-melody “Canticle” add or detract from its use here?

The movie itself is very well constructed indeed, and marvelously shot. This was the late Mike Nichols’ sophomore film after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and there’s a distinct energy to it. The scene transitions are often clever and generally very communicative, though they sometimes confused The Flower. It’s in Technicolor (though the film treatment is definitely in the more “realistic” and less aesthetic realm, as was common in this era).

You can see why she likes Ben.
Here’s an odd shot.

So, these are all good things about the movie. I can see why people love it.

I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. But I found it like—well, like you might find a foreign film from a culture you didn’t understand. Or like “High Noon”, where we just know Gary Cooper’s the good guy, and we’re never really told what will happen if he just leaves town. I mean, I think the premise of the movie is that Hoffman’s character, Ben, is the White Hat. Mrs. Robinson, I guess, is the Black Hat. Although, I read someone recently saying something to the effect of “When I saw this as a young man, I saw Ben as the hero and Mrs. Robinson as the villain, but now I see Mrs. Robinson as the hero trying to keep her daughter away from a shiftless no-good bum.”

Forty years’ll do that, I guess.

OK, it's not odd at all.
It’s odd how the really unappealing but more representative shots aren’t the ones for promotion.

I suggested that perspective to The Flower, that Mrs. Robinson was trying to protect Elaine from Ben, and she said, “Nah, she was just bored.” And, in fairness, there’s nothing in the movie that imbues Mrs. Robinson with any great perspective on anything (unless, again, we assume the perspective that anything counter-cultural is good). If we’re not completely hostile to the notion that Ben just doesn’t want to “join society”—that one can, reasonably, decide not to participate in a game one finds distasteful—then his only real problem is that he’s been generally passive up to this point in his life, and this weird quasi-rebellion is heroic, in the severely diminished Frankfurtian concept of heroism): the first time he’s ever asserted himself.

But if we say that Mrs. Robinson’s goal all along is to keep Ben away from her daughter, she must be aware of all these things simultaneously: That Elaine will be so attracted to Ben she will want to marry him; that Ben will likewise be similarly attracted, even though he has utterly fought the notion up to that point; that Ben is also completely worthless, or a clone of her own (presumably awful) husband.

This is a lot of acuity to put on a drunk.

No cheating!
Squint your eyes: Are you looking at Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick or John Cusack?

So, she could just be wrong. But then there’s the flip-side of this: Ben is basically rebelling against what everyone wants him to do. He doesn’t want to go into business. He doesn’t want to go into grad school (I think that was another respectable option for him, and one most rich, shiftless bums probably took). And he sure as hell doesn’t want to get hooked up with Elaine.

And his act of rebellion is what? Hooking up with Elaine.

This could’ve been great (for me, I mean, obviously other people do find it great) had there actually been a worthwhile character in the bunch. Instead—and the very famous ending underscores this—it just looks like two people have broken out of one automatic reaction (obedience to parents and society) into another automatic reaction (disobedience to parents and society). There’s not a moment of enlightenment to be found here. But I suppose that’s what makes it real, man.

It’s not terrible by any means, at least on a technical level. But it’s fair to say I didn’t get it. (We would see Hair not long after this, and I would not be nearly this sanguine.) The Flower enjoyed the aesthetics of it, and she can completely disconnect from a narrative she doesn’t like (unlike me). The Boy had seen it previously a few years ago in film class and wasn’t so bowled over that he felt the need to see it again.

Hey, he was in Bullitt, too!
Norman Fell presciently trying out for “Three’s Company”.

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