out of ****
Graduate is a manipulative film completely devoid of morals
and direction. I realize that such a statement is lost in the
wind, because it is also a film that won the Oscar for best director,
was nominated for best picture, and made the top ten list of A.F.I.'s
best American films ever made. In addition, it more or less jumpstarted
the careers of both director Mike Nichols and star Dustin Hoffman.
All of these facts piling on top of each other signify that my
review is probably wrong and off-kilter. Thus, read no farther
if you don't want to hear an opinion that stands completely alone.
But I think that I can point out why I feel The Graduate
does not live up to its legacy, if you will permit me the next
you're still reading, good for you.
Graduate can more or less be summed up with its most famous
words: "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me!"
This is the statement that carries the weight and point of the
entire film. Ben (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college,
but instead of searching for a job and trying to begin a career,
he finds himself bored with life, his parents, and their luxurious,
gossipy lifestyle. He therefore attempts to isolate himself in
his own world of thought and desperation. He almost succeeds,
except for the keen eye of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), Ben's
middle-aged next door neighbor who seems to live an equally boring
life with her husband. Mrs. Robinson successfully seduces Ben,
and they begin a secret life of sex, lies, and all the other wonderful
conflicts that you see in your regularly scheduled soap operas.
would all be okay if it wasn't so perfectly predictable. Of course,
in the first scene in which Mrs. Robinson seduces Ben, he admires
a picture of her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Of course,
once Elaine shows up, they're going to fall in love, against Ben's
better judgment and Mrs. Robinson's better wishes. Of course,
Elaine will find out about the affair and refuse to have anything
to do with Ben, spiraling him into a selfish, greedy attempt to
win her back from a gentleman who her parents try to marry her
off to. I suppose that all of this wouldn't be all that predictable
if the characters didn't spend so much time talking about what
they were going to do before they do it, but this is a film driven
by its dialogue. Pity that the writers aren't sure how to develop
it so that it actually sounds like real people instead of obvious
could argue (and indeed, many have) that it doesn't matter that
all of this is unbelievably predictable, because the point is
not what happens but how it happens, and the growth and self-journeys
that the characters all take along the way. Alright, I'll buy
it. But when we have a look at the journeys that the characters
take, we realize that it adds up to basically nothing. Their motivations
are all unclear, and the film's themes therefore become muddled.
we talk about the film's shortcomings, let's first talk about
what does work. For starters, The Graduate is one
of the best looking films I've ever seen, and if a film was
judged simply on its technical achievements, it would be flawless.
Its mise en scene alone becomes an incredible storytelling
device, and should be studied by all film students. Nichols
knows how to tell a good story with a camera. Consider the
long, drawn-out shots, particularly at the beginning. The
camera positions itself and never moves, even when a character
has moved away or blocks the screen. This effect creates the
sensation that we are onlookers into the troubled life of
Ben: The poor graduate doesn't want to move from his spot
in front of the camera, even if he is missing, ignoring, or
being blocked by the qualities to be found in life because
he is only interested in satisfying his own, unmoving brood.
editing is also an inventive storytelling device: When Mrs. Robinson
finally appears nude before Ben in order to seduce him, we are
given rapid, suggestive cuts of her body, which finally break
away from the long, quiet shots that have been the norm. These
quick edits make the viewer perfectly aware of Ben's frantic state
of mind, in what is the most brilliant use of nudity that I have
ever seen. Period.
also like the soundtrack, which is composed primarily of Simon
and Garfunkle. The now famous songs effectively communicate Ben's
lazy demeanor, and as "The Sound of Silence" plays over
the long, unending shots of Ben as he stands quietly, or floats
along the water, or drives in his car, we understand exactly what
he is thinking. Rarely, I must confess, has a soundtrack been
integrated so well into a film.
The Graduate fumbles is in its characters and narrative.
Ben and the others stumble along mindlessly and with little motivation
except to be manipulated or used by each other all the way to
a very unsatisfactory, depressing conclusion. The main problem,
I think, is that Nichols has no idea what do with Ben. If the
film is encouraging the graduate to step out of the comfort zone
of his bored existence and grow up, why, when it comes time for
him to make such crucial decisions, is he painted as such a creep?
Some might argue that Ben's static nature is the point, but I
see no social commentary behind his actions. He is merely a jerk
for no rhyme or reason. Quite simply, he is depressing to watch,
and his actions have no payoff.
Robinson's motivation for seducing a dead-head like Ben is also
never explained. Before their relationship is even firmly established,
she's taking off her clothes. Why did she choose Ben, when she
is clearly a beautiful, charming woman who could have had any
man that she wanted? Is it to set him free, in a sense, from himself?
Then why does the film not go anywhere with this idea, and quickly
jump to Ben's relationship with Mrs. Robinson's daughter? For
that matter, Ben's relationship with Elaine is also contrived
and underdeveloped. She seems far too intelligent to buy into
Ben's apathetic and self-driven frame of mind, yet fall for his
she does, even though they never have one tender moment in the
film with any real emotion besides Ben's confused frustration.
The rest of the characters are unwritten and only exist as devices
to move these three characters along, and that would have been
fine if these three characters' action were a little more plausible.
one character who I ended up sympathizing with was the young man
who Elaine's parents set her up to marry. Here is a dry but evidently
honest fellow who truly seems to care for the young woman, and
when some jerk interrupts their wedding ceremony and cries out
her name, Elaine leaves the poor bloke standing at the alter.
The viewer never really feels this guy's pain because we never
really meet him, and we are supposed to be rooting for Ben. Perhaps
if the man had been a better developed character, we would have
realized how illogical and selfish Elaine's escape with Ben actually
was. This leads me to believe that not developing this character
was a deliberate choice on Nichol's part, which makes the film's
ending either one of cinema's most brilliant storytelling choices
or one of the greatest con-jobs ever pulled on an audience.
only character who is ever developed well is Ben, and to be fair,
Hoffman does a commendable job. It is easy to see why this film
made him the star he is today. His performance actually mirrors
that of Raymond in Rain Man, the 1988 film for which
Hoffman finally won his Oscar. Ben is a nervous, shy, and soft-spoken
loser who eventually loses his innocence and descends into dishonesty
and social rebellion. His performance holds the film together;
it's just a pity that Nichols can't figure out what to do with
the character. Ben is constantly juggled between hero and villain,
and his antics keep the film interesting as it demonstrates Ben's
misadventures in an unpredictable manner. Unfortunately, his antics
are also uneven, to the point that I could never figure out what
the moral of the film was. Is it condemning or supporting Ben's
lifestyle and Elaine's final decision to be with him? As a viewer,
I was never clear. The Graduate has been heralded as
an insightful social commentary, but it never seems to make a
clear comment about anything.
a result, I wasn't so concerned about what Ben and Elaine were
going to do now that they were together so much as I was simply
wishing that Ben wouldn't have made it to the wedding in the first
place, or that Mrs. Robinson had ever seduced him in the first
place, and that this film would have been about something completely
different. Perhaps Ben taking up the offer to become part of the
plastic business would have been a more interesting movie: Who
knows? Taking a character as fascinating as Ben with filmmaking
techniques as good as what's presented here and placing them into
the business world could have given us a far better premise to
suit this serpent-like character. Instead, we are given a mindless
trek into sex and deceit, from which The Graduate is
never able to graduate out of.
Dustin Hoffman: Ben
Anne Bancroft: Mrs. Robinson
Katharine Ross: Elaine Robinson
Murray Hamilton: Mr. Robinson
MGM presents a film by Embassy Pictures
Corporation. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by Buck Henry and
Calder Willingham, from the novel by Charles Webb. Rated PG, for
nudity and sexuality (but I would rate it R for the intensity
of its subject matter. That this only received a PG-rating is
mind-boggling. It is by no means acceptable for children). Running
time: 105 minutes. Original United States theatrical release date:
December 21, 1967.