Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Essentials- "The Graduate" (1967)

The Essentials-#72

The Graduate

There are very few movies at there that have tried to investigate the American obsession with sex and our culture’s overall sexual identity. Not only that, but very few movies have approach this subject in a serious and significant way. There is a good reason why Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” was accepted for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1996. The movie does a good job of painting a portrait of a boy who is young and confused, a boy who is still piecing together his identity, a boy who wasted four years at college and still has no idea what to do with his life. When I graduated from college, my friends from home and my college buddies had a firm grasp of what they wanted to do with their lives, and I feel like I do too. Sure, everyone has set-backs, but overall we all have a plan of some kind, a power-play that will cement our mark in life.

I never knew anybody like Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a man who comes home from his college graduation with absolutely no plan for his future. It doesn’t seem any family or friends seem to care, they are just happy to have a college graduate in the house. It seems a little silly that somebody who has a B.A. would still be aimlessly drifting through life, but I don’t doubt it happens. In Macklemore’s recent album, there is a song where he discusses the “confusion before the suit and tie,” and I think that is a very real thing. I think some people do suffer from anxiety after graduating college. We fear that we will never live up to our potential, we fear that we will not become the people we studied to become and most of all we fear that we will remain unemployed for an uncertain amount of time. These are all relevant fears and I think Hoffman captures them very well within the first twenty minutes of the film. I think Hoffman has always been a talented guy, and this is just another iconic performance by an iconic actor.

On the night of his graduation party, Benjamin’s father’s law partner’s wife Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) needs a ride home. Benjamin agrees to drive her home and she swiftly invites him in for a drink and proceeds to seduce him. Benjamin is reluctant at first, but eventually gives into Mrs. Robinson’s seduction and they begin an affair. Bancroft was a very beautiful woman and she knew how to use that beauty well in this movie. Mrs. Robinson is a relentless temptress in this movie and Bancroft creates that persona well.

Not only is there an intriguing story of a lucrative affair, but a sub-plot emerges when Benjamin’s parents and Mrs. Robinson’s husband declare that Benjamin should date the Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Nobody knows about Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin’s affair and Mrs. Robinson is very much against Benjamin dating Elaine. Benjamin takes Elaine on a date, but purposefully acts like a jerk, but once he discovers he has a connection to Elaine, he decides he wants to date her. What ensues is one of the zaniest love triangles ever to appear in a motion picture. Yet, through the craziness of the movie, the acting work by Hoffman, Bancroft, Ross and the rest of the cast keep the audience invested in the characters. Not only does Hoffman do a good job of playing the drifting young man well, he is really good at playing an anti-hero. By the end of the movie, Benjamin is only after his own self-satisfaction, not the satisfaction of anyone else. He wants to be happy and he doesn’t care who he has to step on to get there. It is a bold move for a movie to create a lead that we are not necessarily supposed to root for and I give the movie credit for that decision. The character is further complimented by the good work done by Bancroft and Ross.

What really makes “The Graduate” worth-while is how sincere it treats its adult subjects. Sex is never an easy subject, whether it’s TV or movies or any other piece of media. I liked how the film approached the subject and took it seriously. I liked how Nichols successfully integrated the subject into a film with a meaning and purpose. It is not a movie that just discusses sex just to discuss it; the movie approaches the material in a meaningful way.

There is a lot to marvel at when it comes to “The Graduate,” and I don’t mean that with any pun whatsoever.

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