I’m not exactly sure what I just watched, but I did like the ending.
American Film Institute’s Ranking: #7/100
Awards: Nominated for six winning Best Director.
This movie is so tangible in the beginning. A highly-relatable college grad returns home to family and friends who no longer understand him. He spends most of the summer in the pool adrift which is a metaphor for the rest of his life: no direction, just aimless bobbing. He enters into an extramarital relationship with a middle-aged friend of the family. The perfect counterpart, she too is aimless in life’s journey but from a very different perspective.
But then things get weird. REALLY WEIRD. Like, rage swinging a Christian cross strange (spoiler alert!).
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home after graduating college. In celebration, his parents throw him a party. Benjamin is rather alienated form everyone in attendance: he is disinterested in the small talk about his future and sales pitches for job opportunities (“plastics”). Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft), the wife of his father’s law partner, convinces Benjamin to drive her home since her husband isn’t present. Benjamin accepts the offer, anxious to get away from the party.
At Mrs. Robinson’s home, she attempts to seduce Benjamin. She shuts and guards the only exit out of a room with her nude body. Refusing the advances, Benjamin escapes and has an awkward chat with Mr. Robinson downstairs. This cat and mouse game continues, and eventually Benjamin sets up an awkward rendezvous at a local hotel for some infidelity. The clandestine meetings continue in the night and seem to be beneficial for all parties.
That is until Benjamin falls in love with Mrs. Robinsons’ daughter.
The front end of the movie, even though it makes much more sense than what is to come, is a bit shaky.
The best part is Benjamin. We’ve all been Benjamin: at a crossroad in life and acquiescing to life’s kismet instead of dictating our own destiny. No one understands his predicament, particularly his parents, so his feelings of ennui perpetuate. Being understood is a fundamental need in life and it was easy to relate to his plight of returning home a changed man but with no one to discuss it with.
The character of Mrs. Robinson, however, is much more of enigma. We understand that she’s dissatisfied with her life, but it makes little sense of why she chose Benjamin. He’s clumsy, quirky, and diffident. While this could generate a certain fondness, I never got the feeling that this was the case. The power dynamics are very much in one direction, and she is much more manipulative and domineering, getting what she wants.
In short: I found it very unbelievable that she would enter any kind of relationship with Benjamin at all.
So what’s left is to see which direction the movie decides to go: does Ben gain confidence and pull a power move as we cheer the protagonist? Does Mrs. Robinson grow to like Ben but realizes it will never work out and laments her life?
What the movie sets up seems to be head and shoulders above the hackneyed scenarios I day-dreamed above: Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson’s DAUGHTER fall in love. Now isn’t this a cluster! It seems to be that this would be an unsalvageable situation where everything ends up on a sour denouement.
The movie avoids this but in doing so destroys the integrity of every character. When Elaine Robinson finds out that Benjamin had a relationship with her mom, she understandable terminates the relationship and flees to Berkley. Ben then goes full creeper and stalks Elaine’s every move showing up at her school, bus stop, and outings.
Ben is no longer the relatable youth trying to forge his own path; he is an unmoored psychopath. When Elaine succumbs to these advances, she’s no longer a respected individual but a sullied entity.
The ending is slightly redeemable by being full of imagery and excitement. The ambiguous ending on the bus is a perfect coda to this script: what happens in this movie is nothing short of a fairy tale, and the two realize there isn’t a probable happy ending. So I guess it did end up being a sour denouement for everyone, just in a completely non-believable way.
Ben tells Mr. Braddock his plan for marrying Elaine which becomes the focus of the back-half of the movie.
Mr. Braddock: Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half baked.Benjamin Braddock: No, it’s not. It’s completely baked.
I agree with Mr. Braddock: the entire movie is pretty half-baked.
Other People’s Takes:
- The Entertainment Blur: “What makes The Graduate such a classic is because of how easily it is to relate to Benjamin. His character is moral. He’s a nice guy that just got sucked into the stress of the real world”
- The Beetley Pete: “This is a film of its time. Rich young Americans, even richer older Americans, and a love triangle of the type rarely examined before. Hoffman is ideally cast as the confused young man, and Ross is perfect as a desirable girl of the 1960s”
- Sub It To Love: “The film is nevertheless much more than a love drama. It is full of contemporary cultural discussion and iconic lines that are often referenced in other films