I don’t understand what happened, for a while I was loving every second of “The Graduate”. Then things changed, I began to tire and see everything differently. Ben (Dustin Hoffman) was no longer humorous in his awkwardness but more flat out annoying, he’s a creep and everyone should know it. Elaine (Katharine Ross) is an idiot with no direction in life who falls in love with people instantaneously. Even after it turns out that this person had an affair with her mother. This is how I felt in the end and it annoyed me severely, earlier on however, I was quite enjoying the way Ben interacted with the world around him, and it was actually sometimes funny to watch. It’s incredibly sad when a film’s first and second half are reminiscent of a magnet with opposite poles. “The Graduate” begins as a pleasure but descends into drudgery which holds the film back from real greatness.
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a graduate who has just returned home from his years at college, and he is worried about his future. Ben’s parents throw him a graduation party but Ben is much more interested in sitting and thinking about where his life goes from here. Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is a family friend of the Braddocks’ and her husband is also Mr Braddock’s business partner. Things begin to get complicated when Mrs Robinson successfully seduces Ben and they begin an incredibly shallow affair that gets even more complicated as Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) gets involved when Ben falls in love with her right after promising Mrs Robinson he wouldn’t go near her. It’s a story that is fairly interesting for a while and has you questioning why each of the characters do these things. It keeps you mentally engaged right up until the plot falls apart and becomes a jigsaw with one too many pieces missing.
Something to consider is how likeable the characters really are. Ben starts off as a quiet and awkward teenager that works to comic effect a majority of the time as he doesn’t quite know how to handle himself in crowds. His life is going no where right now, despite his college education and his affairs with the Robinsons’ are leading him in circles instead of forward. At one point he is asked to consider looking at getting into the plastics business, hindsight would show that would have been a good idea and apparently that seemed pretty obvious in 1967. Benjamin should have the brain to figure that out but he just comes across as obnoxious and incredibly arrogant. This wasn’t a problem for the first part of the film as I didn’t think much of it until Ben really began to grate on me. Eventually he starts stalking Elaine and he never really takes responsibility for what he did, and quite frankly he ends up becoming a boring character. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Ben should be commended however, he delivers the character exactly how he should. With the inability to communicate shown by subtle twitches and eyes darting to the ground, along with the less subtle awkward cupping of Mrs Robinson’s breast as she undresses. Only to realise his schoolboy error and bang his head against the wall. Ben isn’t a ladies man, he’s a lady’s man and Mrs Robinson sees right through this. Her motives for seducing Ben are never clear… perhaps she needed to exercise power over a man other than her husband? Maybe she wanted to feel young again. She could have even been bored but either way she is still the most empowered character and it’s excruciatingly annoying the way she flaunts this. I can’t stand her.
Ben and Mrs Robinson’s relationship is a large part of the story and as a result is interesting to consider. To reflect the fact that Ben still sees Mrs Robinson as a family friend and doesn’t feel like an equal with her, he never stops calling her “Mrs” which acknowledges her status as a married woman. It creates a ridiculousness to the situation and accentuates the generation gap, that is such a big part of what “The Graduate” is about. Simon and Garfunkel are responsible for much of the music that has gone into the film and most of it is good. “Sound of Silence” is a stand out song whilst “Scarborough Fair” is played so many times and isn’t even very good to begin with that it made the idea of a perforated ear drum seem like some kind of intangible delicacy, like acupuncture and caviar. There are also some impressive techniques used involving the camera. For example, on scene shows Ben running towards the camera from quite a distance away. The effect created is that it looks as though Ben isn’t progressing or getting closer and this stasis is a representation of Ben’s current life. How the freedom of being out of education is overwhelming him, and how being a model student doesn’t necessarily prepare you for when you have to make your own choices and decide for yourself what the best thing to do is.
As I’ve mentioned, the plot becomes incredibly frantic in the second half and this is when I began to really despise all of the characters. Mrs Robinson really comes out as the spoiled hag she is, and her daughter Elaine is shown to be a class A moron. Screaming when Ben tries to explain himself and then forgiving him later for no reason. Mr Robinson is also gutless and speaks to Ben as if he is a child, well Mr Robinson… This child has had his way with your wife for quite some time now and he’s about to win your daughter too, perhaps you should be taking a page from his book because he did all of this and still managed to be the most boring character in the film. No one took responsibility for their actions and almost everyone was in the wrong at some point. The population of earth, as portrayed in “The Graduate”, is filled with half wits who view IQ points as rare commodities which would explain their incessant need to chaperone Ben to the point where he feels he has to block the sound of his family out at the bottom of a pool in a scuba diving suit.
I was polarised by “The Graduate”, though it is often a hilarious film that just gets way too frayed in the last act. It’s a shame as it could have been much more, but I feel happy that I never have to think about the siren by the name of Mrs Robinson ever again.