The Graduate

The Graduate. Embassy Pictures 1967.

Before watching the movie:

What I know about this movie is… well, the iconic scene. Surely the plot can’t be as simple as “he gets seduced by an older woman?” Sources seem to indicate it is, but I don’t see how it could have such staying power if that’s all there is. I’m a little comforted by the mention I see that he has no direction in life after graduation, so I guess it’s a coming of age story?

It was not until I had this copy in hand that I realized that the title character was played by a very young Dustin Hoffman. Sure, I’ve seen him mentioned in context with the film a few times, but somehow I never heard “Dustin Hoffman” when people said, “In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman…”After watching the movie:

Ben Braddock is fresh out of college and has no idea what to do with his life. His father just wants him to be a model son to show off to his business associates, but Ben is confused and scared about the road ahead. Mrs. Robinson, wife of one of his father’s partners, asks him to drive her home from his graduation party, and when she is home she makes it graphically clear to him that she wants to make herself sexually available to him. He is shocked and scandalized, but ultimately falls into an affair with her. She is adamant that he have nothing to do with her daughter Elaine, but pressures from his parents force him into taking her out. Disastrously, Ben finds that he loves Elaine, but her mother will do anything necessary to keep them apart.

Somewhere around the middle of the second act, I started trying to come up with a metaphor for what watching this film is like. Hanging kept coming to mind, but that happens too quickly. Ben digging his own grave also came to mind, but he got into his frustratingly trapped position entirely by going along with what other people wanted. I think some kind of suffocation applies, but this attempt at imagery has gone on far too long.

Not to say that the film is bad, it’s just very, very good at making the viewer empathize with a very, very bad situation. It starts out with Ben in an uncomfortable place and never lets up more than a moment.

What I was trying to say about Dustin Hoffman in the introduction is that I’m completely not used to him in a role like this, or in general being this young. I’m not sure anymore what role defined him for me, but it may have been Captain Hook in Hook. Most of the roles I’ve seen him in have been of a rougher nature (except Mr. Magorium), but one thing I’ve never seen him play is “nervous.” Ben is a bundle of nerves for the entire movie, except when he’s with Elaine. Meanwhile, while I probably should have seen Anne Bancroft in a film before, I can’t place her with anything. She will forever be in my mind as a selfish self-made tragic villain, or perhaps cinema’s least inviting femme fatale.

Numerous times I was aware of the very intentional cinematography enhancing the story, even besides the most obvious shots with Mrs. Robinson’s legs in the foreground and Ben in the background. I could have done without some of the intricate lighting, but the camerawork was very effectively plotted.

While I cannot underscore enough that I appreciate how well-told this story was, I hope to never see this picture again. The discomfort and frustration Ben Braddock feels is transmitted to the viewer very efficiently, and there is never a break. Mrs. Robinson ruins his life for her own selfish midlife crisis-related reasons, and the result is 100 minutes where I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

 

Watch this film: for the excellent direction and camerawork.

Don’t watch this film: too invested in the story.

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