Monday, June 22, 2009

THE GRADUATE (Mike Nichols, 1967, USA) Benjamin Braddock is about to graduate from teenager into the static adulthood of his listless parents, a prisoner who is emotionally overwhelmed by annoying prattle; a young man about to become a slave to conformity. Ben doesn’t want his parent’s lifestyle because he doesn’t know exactly what he wants, but that doesn’t stop everyone from telling him what he should desire: a trophy wife, a high-paying job, and all the physical trappings of material success. Director Mike Nichols begins the film as Benjamin literally comes down to earth in a daze, his fish tank a backdrop to his tired visage metaphorically implying his drowning personality, while his parents fully eclipse his identity. Nichol’s montage editing is outstanding as he quickly allows himself to become seduced by the drunken (but gorgeous) Mrs. Robinson: images of Ben floating in his pool are cut to him lounging on her bed, or his jumping on his plastic raft cuts quickly to him mounting her slender physique. Ben is under the illusion that he has regained control of his life, floating above the water instead of submerged in the abyssal depths: he is still dependent on compressed air and filtered from the world in an armored suit, his spear gun nothing more than showpiece. As his resentment grows, his affair becomes tenuous and he realizes he has been consumed by the voracious appetite of an older women, who denies him Elaine…the love he so desperately desires. THE GRADUATE is about rebellion, fighting back and chasing a dream, and Benjamin pursues Elaine with hope of a future but she is disgusted with his perverse affair with her mother. But Elaine’s epiphany is realized at the last moment as she sees through to harsh reality; as Ben screams her name from above, her own parents and fiancĂ© are vicious caricatures baring fangs and hatred. As Ben and Elaine run away together, neither suspects that their future will be together: Nichols doesn’t show them kiss or embrace, only a thousand yard stare into the unknown. The yellow public bus looks like a school bus as it disappears, Ben and Elaine framed in the back window, implying they have much yet to learn. (A)

2 comments:

hotoldlady said...

I've taught this several times and students still love it. I don't see Ben as willingly going to bed with Mrs. R. He is literally driven to it after his parents push him down into the pool after making him don that stupid diver's suit. It is as we see him on the bottom of the pool that we hear the phone being dialed and hear Ben's voice speaking to Mrs. R. Before this, Nichols goes to great lengths to show us how Ben's parents view him: not as an individual, but as a trophy. Hence, those stupid parties at which only their friends were attending. Who throws parties like that for their kids? (Well,my parents, but that's another story, or is it?) Mrs. R. herself wants Ben, not out of passion. Could there be a less hot to trot woman? Remember her in the hotel stopping to rub a spot out of her blouse?

When Ben and Elaine ride off together, you know they may not live happily ever after together, but whatever they do, they will do for themselves, for what they want. You can't imagine what a stunner this was in 1967 to us who had 50's adolescences. Or maybe you can.

Alex DeLarge said...

Great post, thank you! It's interesting how each generation can view a film differently based upon their own experiences. I only see Ben as a victim of stifling conformity, a boy who doesn't want to become his parents...or their friends. He's drowning in their lifestyle and must escape and understands the emotional sacrifice he made in allowing himself to be seduced by Mrs. Robinson. I see Ben as a willing participant...to a point. He is naive and taken advntage of by an older woman. I love the ending because both he and Elaine are their own people, probably not together but growing as individuals. I'm a child of the 70s & early 80s (I apologize for XANADU and other mishaps of the era) but we both agree a classic film that transcends its time.
Again, than you for your insight:)
Alex