I fell in love with the music of Simon and Garfunkel at the same time I fell in love with The Graduate. Directed by Mike Nichols, the film follows Benjamin, the son of a well-off middle class American family as he returns home from university in the late 60s.
I don’t think the term spoilers really extends to a classic film made in 1967, but if you disagree then beware, spoilers ahead!
Clearly the change has left him lost, with a fearful emptiness that he doesn’t know how to address. Everything looks threatening and unappealing. He loved university but was completely unprepared for what came next. Suddenly he finds himself stripped of his new-found independence and the identity he made for himself there. Relegated to little boy status back in the place he was trying to escape all along. While being bombarded by a host of overbearing older people all competing to project onto him what they think he ought to be. Feelings which I think many real life graduates can identify with, including myself.
In his bewildered malaise he reaches out for whatever jetsam comes his way. Unlucky for him this comes in the form of Mrs. Robinson – viperine alcoholic wife of his father’s business partner – who deftly manipulates him into an ill-advised affair. In his disoriented catatonic state, he presents an easy target, and acquiesces to her demands after putting up a weak and clumsy fight. He collapses into the affair and they spend the summer using each other for sex in a pointedly clinical fashion.
To complicate matters further, he later falls for her daughter. This is where the trouble starts. Beautifully directed pain and hilarity ensue.
Maybe it’s just me but I think the film sets up a horrible cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, it seduces you into the glossy well-to-do lifestyle of late 60s Californian suburbia, with its sunshine, lawns, opulent houses, fancy cars and pool parties. Yet we see it through the terrified eyes of a misfit who doesn’t want to surrender his life to all of that. He wants to keep his options open instead of blindly resigning himself to just being another alcoholic clone on a golf course prattling on about plastics. He wants to double-bolt the door on that looming metamorphosis and force the university bubble open with hydraulic jacks for as long as he possibly can. To stall making a commitment until he’s figured out what it all means, and what the hell he’s supposed to do next. But it’s too late, and it’s all coming flooding in around him. So much so he can’t even breathe any more. Every parent or parent’s friend looks like a vampire coming for his soul. But the pool looks so inviting and there’s cool beer on tap. And I want to go stay in the Taft Hotel god dammit! But it’s a trap! But it’s all so lovely and I want that Alfa Romeo Spider! … etc.
Maybe Mrs. Robinson offers a way of sticking two fingers up at the world that’s trying to ensnare him, while providing him with a grown-up hobby while he struggles to figure it all out. Which of course he never will.
I particularly like how the film ends which reminds me of the end of Les Quatre Cents Coups when Antoine reaches the sea and appears to be thinking something along the lines of “So what? What now?”. That danger of getting what you wanted. If you haven’t seen that film then round about now you’ll be thinking I’m a pretentious wanker. I don’t blame you. For what it’s worth, they made us watch it at gunpoint in French class at school. See – I’m a geezer !?! Well it was worth a shot.
The Graduate is a film that I’ll revisit again and again till the day I die.
Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft are the main attraction here although the supporting cast is also rock solid. It’s unfair of me but I was always so disappointed whenever I saw Dustin Hoffman in anything else after this. I guess I am just in love with this film.
Benjamin’s bleakly humorous journey through the inferno is embellished by one of the most apt sound tracks I’ve ever heard in cinema. It really makes the film for me.
Here’s Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel set to a montage of scenes from the film: