“This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.”
The erraticism and spontaneity The Graduate possesses only motivates inquisition of the depths that the future may hold. The Graduate examines many common foreseen questions people internalize while examining the future. In addition, the film adds external influences that ultimately lead Benjamin to a large maturity growth.
The graduate is a highly accredited young man, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who returns to his home of suburbia Los Angeles in which he deeply contemplates his future. The opening scene of the film explicitly reveals the many emotions Benjamin holds. Without one word spoken, viewers can see a confused 20 something year-old which inhibits anxious and emptiness that is clearly shown on his face. Since the film takes place in the 1960’s, it is set in a time of heavy materialism. While everyone around Benjamin is focused on materialistic unfulfilling things in life, his desires of deeper fulfillment beyond materialism heightens his feelings of being an oddity.
“Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”
Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a neighbor friend, appears to be able to give Benjamin all he desires. Seduction and lust all wrapped up in a perfect package. As wrong as circumstances could seem, for the audience it almost appears ok. Upon seeing his vast number of internal struggles, I only hoped for him to escape the darkness he was living in. A captivating aspect this film holds is its vulnerability. Both of the characters and scenes take place in vulnerable states, which makes for an interesting experience to watch unfold.
The Graduate’s uniqueness is also showcased through the power of music. The beautifully revolutionary Simon & Garfunkel album intertwined throughout The Graduate, reveals the heart of the film. In retrospect, the film wouldn’t encompass all that it showcases without the music. The full-length album almost poses as a character in itself. It’s not only sounds, melodies, and lyrics, but it’s a journey. A journey that showcases confusion, adventures, sadness, and growth.
Aesthetically pleasing and deep cinematography also sets The Graduate apart from any other film. Defining cuts and darkness are amplified throughout the film. Alluding to classic film noir movies, the use of darkness and morning sunrise light peeking through blinds is utilized. While the tool of color scheming and darkness accompanied with shadowing may seem like subtle changes, they completely change the bigger picture. The specific use of darkness while the affair between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson continues on, shows a deeper meaning about the characters. The darkness reveals remorseful feelings that led him to questioning his own morals. Even when he is seemingly sorting out his life, he still is faced with questions over his morals and behaviors.
The multiple experiences with Mrs. Robinson equips Benjamin with much growth and maturity, even beyond the “bedroom” knowledge. Throughout the course of the film, I began to see how beyond the complicated surface of Benjamin, a quite simple character lies beneath. In subconscious ways, I interpret a number of their experiences and affair together to be a coping mechanism and almost a way of sorting out the deep confusion he’s dealing with. I feel like Benjamin was so desperate for a way to release all this built up emotion and somehow it comes out in this fashion. Once he has this ultimate push for changing his empty life to a full life, on the urging requests of his parents, he discovers a comfortable connection with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).
Elaine eventually hears of the affair between Ben and her mother. With extreme disappointment, she returns to her university, in which Ben follows her in the hopes of pursuing his relationship further with her. When he is forbidden to ever seeing Elaine again on the terms of Mrs. Robinson, Elaine is forced to marry an acquaintance that her mother sets her up with. Defying Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin manages to locate the wedding and stops Elaine. Eventually leading to the grand finale in which Benjamin and Elaine runaway and catch a bus to wherever their unforeseen future may take them. When the ever so subtle grin appears on Benjamin’s face, viewers can sense this redemption and comfort that overtakes him. Defining moments in the film show Ben’s feelings through subtle facial expressions, silence, and various cinematography. This film is utterly powerful due to the turn away from common films of its time whose substance and depth came mostly from dialogue. Silence is a powerful tool that was used throughout a heavy portion of the film. Understanding his circumstances, contemplating his life, solving his problems, eventually all leads to silence.
In conclusion, simply watch the opening scene followed by the ending scene. Each scene separately shows two polar opposite emotions in the most precise and straight-forward way possible. Between the stellar cinematography and combination of silence and music, The Graduate captures a broad spectrum of feelings in such a raw manner. Sometimes, silence eloquently captures the deepest emotions and the deepest of meanings in ways that words could never describe.
- Megan Bloom (@meganvbloom)