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The Graduate
1967 - PG - 105 Mins.
Director: Mike Nichols
Producer: Lawrence Turman, Joseph E. Levine
Written By: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels
Review by: Joe Rickey
‘The Graduate’ was released in 1967 to a flourish of praise; both critics and mass audiences professed their love for the film by making it a well-deserved hit and earning director Mike Nichols an Oscar for his efforts. The film also put Dustin Hoffman, formerly a theatre actor, on the Hollywood map; effectively launching what would become a long and illustrious career. Additionally, the film brought new life to the career of Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson who would become an iconic character in the world of film.

Like every great film, ‘The Graduate’ has a key scene that serves to communicate to the viewer the main ideas or themes that the filmmaker is attempting to get across. That scene occurs when Ben (Hoffman) goes out on a date with Elaine (Katharine Ross) thanks to pressure from his parents. After he and Elaine have left the strip club, where she had started crying because of his standoffish behavior, the two decide to go for a drive instead of going to Elaine’s house, where Ben knows Mrs. Robinson waits. Of course, Ben also refuses to have a drink at the hotel where he had earlier met Mrs. Robinson, so the two head back out to his car. Once there, Ben drives to a secluded spot and pours his heart out to Elaine about how he likes her, how he had an affair, and how the affair is all over now.

This particular scene is a perfect illustration of Ben’s search for meaning in what he believes has been basically a big waste of a life. His search for meaning is central to the film’s main theme. In particular, Ben had previously been shown repeatedly lounging around in his pool, watching endless hours of inane television in his room, and engaging in an affair with a woman twice his age. It is implied that he did each of the aforementioned actions purely out of boredom.

Having just graduated from college, he needs to decide what to do with his future. But his affair with Mrs. Robinson, the TV watching, and the lounging around the pool allow him to put his future on the backburner; they keep him occupied. Elaine, however, gives him a purpose. He sees in her a spark of life he has been missing; her innocence intrigues him, gives him hope for a life different than the one he has led thus far. She gives him a purpose and this scene plants within Ben a seed that makes him realize that he cannot live without her.

One important shot in this scene is after Elaine asks Ben if the affair is all over. Up to this point the camera had stayed stationary, with Ben’s shadowed face in the foreground and Elaine’s face illuminated by an outside light source through the use of key lighting. The camera having stayed stationary reinforces that when it finally changes to focus on Ben as he tells Elaine that the affair is over, the change in angle and editing pattern communicates to the viewer how Ben has finally realized the aimless nature of his life up to this point; now he is determined to change for the better.

There are numerous montages throughout ‘The Graduate’, each serving to tell the viewer something about Benjamin Braddock and the situation he finds himself in. One particular montage I found important was the montage that begins with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” playing over a darkened screen and eventually fading in to him lying on a raft in the middle of his parent’s pool with sunglasses on. This montage utilizes a symbolic editing style, typically used to communicate thematic ideas, combined with the nicely chosen piece of music to convey the aimless nature of Ben’s existence up to this point. He goes through life in a lackadaisical, detached manner; not really taking note of what others are saying or doing or even what he himself is doing or saying. For instance, as he is lying on the raft his parents are shown conversing off to the right but Ben, in his dazed state, is not really hearing what they are saying. Not only that, but Ben’s state of detachment has made him care very little about what happens in his life. He desires little more than to whittle his life slowly away, relaxing by the pool. Hence, the lyrics in the song, “People are talking without speaking” and “People hearing without listening.”

In most every film there is a scene in which there is little to no dialogue or music. Instead, compositional elements such as the type of shot and camera angle are used to communicate the meaning of what is transpiring. One such example is the scene where Ben’s parents have made him dress up in scuba gear and demonstrate it by traversing to the bottom of the family’s pool as an act of showmanship and a form of entertainment for his parents. They force him to do this despite obvious objections from Ben, tired of being humiliated by his parents and life in general.

Symbolically, when Ben is trying to resurface from the pool and, in an extreme close-up, effectively utilized to inform the viewer of the immediacy and suddenness of the act, his father puts his hand over Ben’s scuba mask in order to keep him down. This image illustrates how Ben believes his parents to be reinforcing his apathetic behavior by insuring that he conforms to their expectations and basically does whatever they ask of him, whether he wants to or not. One could also make note of how Ben’s POV through the scuba mask is surrounded by a black barrier. This symbolizes how Ben, through living a lifestyle imposed on him by his parents, is not allowed to see all there is to see in the world. His experience has been limited by feeling obligated to fulfill the expectations of his parents.

‘The Graduate’ is undoubtedly a rich filmic experience. It provides a mix of the dramatic and the comedic along with stellar performances by a talented cast. The film includes many memorable scenes. The film is also replete with a wide variety of montages; such as the montage examined earlier which reflects a meaning to the viewer through the skilled use of different Simon and Garfunkel songs, symbolic editing, and a various sundry of compositional elements. Speaking of compositional elements, the scuba scene is a perfect example of a shot (or series of shots) where Ben’s psychological demeanor is conveyed only through the composition of images in a fashion that can only be described as astounding. In fact, the aforementioned adjective could be applied to the film as a whole; as it is indeed an astounding cinematic achievement.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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