Monday, 18 February 2019

The Graduate (1967)

Fagre voksne verden
I have been looking forward to “The Graduate” for a long time. It is one of those iconic movies most people know of, though probably not as many have actually watched. Well, I had not until now. Its reputation is massive, and its Academy awards and nominations seem to confirm that.

It does do a lot of things right.

Right from the outset there is a modernity to the style. The first-person camera, the rambling dialogue and the norm-defying attitudes all points toward the seventies and beyond and is so different from the classical Hollywood style. Maybe a bit of French New Wave there…

The music as well with a soundtrack based on actual songs that would have been known to the audience and certainly is today. Using Simon and Garfunkel for this movie was a stroke of genius, and I would dare say that this would have been a very different movie with any other scoring.

Yet, it is probably the story itself and how it unfolds that has made this movie as famous as it is.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a 21-year-old Graduate who has returned to his Californian home after college. He is aimless and confused, only knowing that the road laid out before him is not the one he wishes to follow. His parents however do not seem to sense this confusion and urges him forward, causing some alienation. Into this pictures steps Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the saucy wife of Ben’s fathers partner. She is a cougar on the prowl and she wants Benjamin.

At first Ben is scared and resists, but after having fended her off once he is intrigued enough that he offers himself to her and they start a purely sexual relationship. When Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) appears, the families urge Ben to take her out, but privately Mrs. Robinson forbids it. When Ben takes her out anyway, he falls in love with her and we have a very spicy triangle.

It was super awesome to see a young Dustin Hoffman. He is one of those actors I always associate with more mature roles, so seeing him as a young man was a revelation. Anne Bancroft, whom I am familiar with from her roles in the fifties was stunning as the icy cold temptress and this is a pretty cool story.

Yet, there was something about this movie that made it hard for me to watch. I have some difficulty putting my finger on it, but I figure it has something to do with the rambling style of the movie. It seems to creep forward at glacial speed only to pick up pace in the end. I found it difficult to actually keep focus on the movie. Another reason may be that I did not actually like any of the characters. We are supposed to root for Benjamin Braddock and in his confused and shy frame of mind that is not too hard, but when he becomes obsessive, he is much harder to follow. At Berkeley be becomes effectively a creepy stalker and that makes it rather unbelievable that Elaine forgives him and give in to him.

Well, in the end it works because he rescues her from her wedding so they can leave be behind their bourgeoise lives and ride off into the sunset, but it did not sit entirely well with me.

“The Graduate” fits well into the late sixties with its themes of sexual freedom, but more pronounced, the youth rebellion of their parent’s lifestyle. I can imagine it being a rallying point for that transformation that took place in those years.

Personally, I am a bit on the fence with this movie, which surprises no-one more than myself. I should love this, but I do not. Yet, it does have so many qualities that I must recommend it anyway.     


  1. I think I saw this on original release as a teenager. I'm confident that it worked then better than it does now. Really looking forward to it though. I've seen it multiple times and it never fails to work for me.

    I find the ending to be really ambivalent. Benjamin and Elaine know what they don't want but have no idea what they do want. It might not be each other. Just the way they stare in that bus.

    1. Agreed.I also think it is an underlying message of the movie. It is not about choosing what to do but about choosing what not to do. A strength and a weakness, I suppose. It does not propose anything to replace what they are giving up except for the fluffy idea of being free.

  2. It would be interesting to see this story play out from Elaine's perspective. Ben would likely look even more creepy.

    That being said, I do really like this film. As you pointed out, it feels modern and fresh with a definite New Wave approach, and captures the alienation one can feel when on the cusp of adulthood.

    1. There is an interesting idea, except that we hardly know anything about Elaine. As a character she is more an object than an actual person. There could be an entire story there or there could be... nothing.
      I do like the modernity about the movie. In fact there are so many things I like about this movie that I am quite surprised that I did not love it.

  3. I've seen the film about a dozen times and it is still a favorite. It has one of my favorite openings (The Sounds of Silence) and closings (the escape from the wedding). I love the soundtrack and Anne Bancroft is fantastic. It isn't a perfect movie though. The last time I saw it, I wondered why a 20/21 year old track star from an affluent family doesn't seem to have any friends his own age? And the Ben/Elaine relationship seems to escalate at an awfully fast pace. As you mentioned, as much about Elaine as we might have liked to.

    1. The opening and the end are also my favorite moments together with Ben lying on the bottom of the pool in his ridiculous diving outfit.
      You have a point, if he was this successful, why does he look this lost and alone? It does not altogether add up.