Post by StevePulaski on Apr 6, 2014 15:36:38 GMT -5
The Graduate (1967)
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Mrs. Robinson in the process of seducing young Benjamin in The Graduate.
It is not uncommon for an adolescent male to be attracted to an older, more mature woman, potentially as old, or even older, than his own mother. While there's the obvious, sexual attraction that is shown in film in a much more juvenile sense, there's also the undermined reason of being attracted to an older woman because of her charm, her wisdom, and her maturity, as well as her experience and refined sensibilities, like the personification of an aged wine. If the relationship is taken to sexual levels, then the sex may bear a bigger level of intimacy than the average fling a man may have with a woman his own age, in addition to the potential of a plethora of thought-provoking conversations that may be had as well. The wealth of experience and emotion that could come from a young man dating an older woman are often undermined by juvenile thought.
It is, however, quite uncommon for an adolescent male to have a relationship with an older woman and fall into the line of events similar to those in Mike Nichols' The Graduate, a wickedly funny film with serious dramatic undertones, beautifully underplayed subtleties, and some truly contemplative insights inside the rigorous and constantly-moving mind of a teenage boy. Dustin Hoffman assumes the role of twenty-year-old Benjamin Braddock, who has just graduated college a confused and uncertain soul. We can see just by the way he walks around his own graduation party that he is neurotic and uncomfortable, only moreso when he runs into Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the attractive wife of his dad's business partner, who invites herself into his bedroom and requests a ride home. When they finally arrive at Mrs. Robinson's lavish home, Benjamin is immediately pampered with music and a glass of bourbon by a heavily-seductive and clearly aroused Mrs. Robinson, who requests that Benjamin sleep with her and stick around before the return of her husband.
Benjamin is made only more uncomfortable by this madness, and after refusing numerous times to this offer, Mrs. Robinson states that she'd like him to visit whenever he is lonely or bored. Eventually, Benjamin takes up that offer, several times managing to sleep with her and making it a constant passtime. Mrs. Robinson, however, is a fragile soul, once an alcoholic and now mercifully protective of her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), who is Benjamin's age. Mrs. Robinson tells Benjamin that he must stay away from her daughter, for she is a sacred cow and that this affair is there's only. Push comes to shove when Benjamin's parents, disillusioned that he's taking it too easy after graduation and not even thinking about career plans or graduate school, set him up on a date with Elaine, who he comes to fall in love with, much to the disgust of Mrs. Robinson. Now, Benjamin must juggle a jealous and unstable Mrs. Robinson, a wonderful but ignorant Elaine, and his own potentially unstable self.
Nichols' Graduate is a masterclass of subtle filmmaking, with editing, shot structure, and little serene moments inside the film that give it all the character it needs. For example, there's the iconic shot where Nichols' camera is positioned underneath the arc of Mrs. Robinson's outstretched leg, showing a nervous but chummy Benjamin when he'd utter the now famous line of, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?," nicely portraying lust, anxiety, and ruthless temptation. Then there's the scene that follows when Mrs. Robinson takes off her top with Benjamin staring directly at her, almost completely speechless and frazzled. Editor Sam O'Steen plays with the shots here, interjecting blink-and-you-miss-it cuts of Mrs. Robinson's body in the middle of the shots where Benjamin is simply staring at her figure, imitating those quick glimpses we give an attractive person or object in real-life effectively.
Continuing on, there's also the cold, frigid stare of Mrs. Robinson's Nichols chooses to close the scene just before Benjamin and Elaine venture out on their date. Rarely does a stare or a facial expression stay so much, and Bancroft, who is forced to have to go from sexy, to sexually adventurous, to angry, to passive-aggressive so quickly, nails this look perfectly in a scene that illustrates disgust, disappointment, neglect, and jealousy tremendously.
The list goes on with the minor things The Graduate does right, but what it does is give us an entertaining story that miraculously avoids the shortcomings and pitfalls of a daytime soap-opera thanks to its acting and its narrative layers. This is a film that nicely, if unconventionally, details the tumultuous life of a teenager. Speaking as one myself at this moment in time, there are numerous forces that are poking and prodding us at all times, be them academic, parental, authoritative, seductive, temptation, whatever. Because of this, and of our inherent naivete and inexperienced nature, it's so easy for us to make a misstep and "choose incorrectly," causing a whirlwind of things to spiral out of control and into a pit of despair. While there is definitely debate to the conscious, decision-making, and even mental-state of our lead character Benjamin, The Graduate is effective at showing how a man's poor decision-making can have dire consequences on many, even if he never meant it in the first place. Theoretically, Nichols and writers Calder Willingham and Buck Henry could've chosen practically anyone - a forty-year-old man, a business executive, a woman, etc - but instead he chooses on a young man, new to the realms of adulthood and burdened by insecurity, neurotic tendencies, and the loud voices of many forces.
Hoffman portrays this in a convincing and simultaneously hilarious performance, with his example-setting mannerisms and desire to be formal on all occasions. Then there's Ross, whose role is of a young woman consistently dragged around by her parents, Benjamin, or other men to the point where individuality is almost compromised. She is given very little to work with in terms of character, but delivers in a spectacular way.
It's truly amazing how The Graduate has gone on to still secure a rather solid reputation in the present, given its admittedly silly and often goofy nature. Yet, as Monte Hellman stated when discussing his film Two-Lane Blacktop, two films in the sixties had a hand in shaping the student/teenager culture and they were The Graduate and Easy Rider. Both films, he states, prompted reactions and unforeseen perspectives on their audiences, as well as providing people, mainly square adults who still carried the still carried the fifties sensibilities of commonality and cheesy togetherness, that teenagers indeed have darker, rebellious, and sexual feelings they need to express and The Graduate is a film that does that, even with its over-the-top nature and sometimes artificial "sixties proper" dialog.
The final thing to comment on with the film is the ending, which is handled splendidly, much like the rest of the picture. Without spoiling it, for the few people that seriously need to get going and watch this picture, it excellently communicates a "now what?" idea, with two characters whose smiles fade, return, then fade again as they realize they spent the last several days wanting something. Now they have it; there's nothing left to want. Time to lead the boring life of their square parents, it seems.
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katharine Ross. Directed by: Mike Nichols.