Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry
Based on: Charles Webb‘s novel
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson
Seen on: 15.3.2016
Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) just finished college where he did very well. Now he’s returned home and has to make decisions about what to do next. But he’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do with himself. When his parents’ friend Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) makes a pass at him, he starts an affair with her. But then he is set up on a date with Elaine (Katharine Ross), the Robinsons’ daughter. Without meaning to, he finds himself drawn to her as well.
I know that The Graduate is an important film in cinematic history and it is by no means a bad film. I just didn’t like it very much.
There are some great things in the film. There is, of course, the wonderful soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel that is a thing of beauty in itself, though it doesn’t always match the film that well. But since The Graduate is one of the earliest, if not the first, film to use pop music in its soundtrack, that part can be easily forgiven. There is also the experimental camera work and editing that becomes particularly obvious in the scene where they cut through several of Benjamin’s encounters with Mrs Robinson and mixing them with Benjamin lying at the pool side or sitting in his bedroom.
But the film came with quite a few issues for me. The first being that I found it incredibly hard to care about Benjamin and his struggle. It starts with the fact that he’s a privileged, college-educated guy who has all doors open to him and while I do realize that decisions, especially the big ones, can be dificult and don’t get easier with more options, I don’t find it that compelling to watch. And I know that that it is probably more a failure on my side than on the film’s – Benjamin is clearly depressed and privilege doesn’t safe from mental illness – but I just found it exhausting to watch the utterly expressionless, passive Benjamin.
It also doesn’T help that the few times he actively does express opinions and emotions, they are disregarded by everyone around him and even himself. Mrs Robinson’s “seduction”? Not so much sexy as assault as she breezes past his discomfort and his mulitple “no”s. His falling in love with Elaine? Not so much an act of passion as of pity. And his love for her ultimately becomes psychotic obsession. Thus the film is definitely excellent in portraying a cloying, oppressive world that twists all human impulses around until they aren’t recognizable anymore and you don’t know yourself. No wonder Benjamin tried his best to break out.
The thing is, I wanted out, too. And while I’m not of the opinion that movies have to be easily swallowed entertainment pills all the time, there has to be something in them that makes me want to spend time with them and the difficult emotions and situations they deal with. No matter how hard it gets, if I don’t want to engage with it, the movie will fall flat on its face. And that is just what happened with The Graduate, despite its many strengths and qualities.