Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Cinematic Experience - The Graduate

The Graduate, 1967

Hello Lovelies!

I'm trying to get back to tackling the VERY long Film School list that I created.  I've really been slacking on that front, so a few nights ago, I popped my copy of The Graduate into the DVD player and settled onto my couch to watch #17 on AFI's 10th Anniversary revamp of their 100 Years...100 Movies list.  In 1996, it was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry as it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  So, let's get to it.

watch the trailer
While The Graduate may not be as significant today as it once was, it is still a great way to spend 105 minutes. Though perhaps I'm being a bit harsh since, adjusted for inflation, this film made over $698 million, so in a way, the impact it had in 1967 should be factored into its enduring significance.  At the time, this film encapsulated the uncertainty that many young people felt about their futures.  The youth of the late 1960's was divided between the counterculture and those that still felt like they had to play by the rules established by their parents' generation.  Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, has just come home to Los Angeles after graduating college on the East Coast and is continually being asked what his plans for his future are and what he intends on doing with himself.  He cannot give anyone a real answer and on more than one occasion states that he is "a little worried about is future."

His parents, while nice and well meaning, are incredibly smothering and put great pressure on him - his past achievements as well as the success that they are certain he will have in the future...even reading the inscriptions in his college yearbook out loud at his graduation party.  Ben, being a very awkward young man, does not cope well with his parents and copes even worse when he finds himself alone with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's law partner.  This is arguably one of the most famous and iconic scenes in cinema.

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."  Everyone knows this line, even if they haven't seen the film.  Just like "Big Brother is watching you" from Nineteen Eighty-Four, this line has become ingrained in pop culture and that speaks volumes.  Unfortunately, the line that most people know stops there.  But my favorite part is the end.  "...Aren't you?"  This is where I cannot see anyone aside from Dustin Hoffman playing Benjamin Braddock.  He is so nervous and awkward and that's part of his charm.  It's essential for us to like him and pity him a bit for his inability to successfully navigate situations and the lack of control he has in his own life.  I say essential because the shift in character that we see not long after this scene requires it so we do not completely write this character off...'cause things get kinda creepy.

But before we go any further, let's take a moment to give this iconic shot its due.  Alright, moving on...
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While this film deals with some pretty heavy themes, there is so much humor worked in.  Shortly after Ben's encounter with Mrs. Robinson, his parents invite their friends over to celebrate his 21st birthday.  They want him to show everyone the present they got for him.  This scene most likely influenced the pink bunny suit scene in A Christmas Story.  You know the one...

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After being utterly humiliated in the scuba suit by his parents, Ben seeks escape at the bottom of the pool and moments later, we see him seeking escape with Mrs. Robinson.  The affair begins and Ben loses his virginity along with the uncertainty and the awkwardness he carried around with him only moments before.  He is no longer worried about his future and instead spends his days lounging by the pool and his nights with Mrs. Robinson.  Ben carries himself differently, he speaks differently, and he is no longer the endearingly awkward guy we met at the start of the film when this conversation with Mrs. Robinson took place:
"Do you find me undesirable?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Robinson, I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends."

No, now he's just kind of an asshole.
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I say he's become kind of an asshole, but below all his new found swagger and ego is still a boy who is looking for connection.  One that he is decidedly not getting in his affair with Mrs. Robinson.  Something that is quite telling, and also pretty funny, is the fact that no matter how long the affair goes on, Ben never calls her anything other than Mrs. Robinson and she never calls him anything other than Benjamin.  There is no real closeness or ease, there seems to be a constant struggle for control - and that can be seen in something as seemingly insignificant as Mrs. Robinson turning out the lights and Ben turning them back on each time she does it.  One night at the hotel, Ben tries to forge some type of connection by trying to have a conversation with her...and she wants no part of it.

In many ways, this scene is very sad.  Ben reaching out, Mrs. Robinson only reluctantly opening up and us realizing that this woman is not completely cold and callous.  This is a very sad woman, one who is unhappy with her life and marriage (OBVIOUSLY!).  She was forced to live her life for others - having to drop out of college and get married when Mr. Robinson knocked her up and putting her life on hold to raise her daughter, Elaine.  While she is using Ben and this tryst to be able to feel young and alive and in control of something, we are able to glimpse her vulnerability and actually feel sorry for her.

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Much like Ben's short visit to Asshole-ville, Mrs. Robinson showing her vulnerability does not last long.  Her vulnerability soon morphs into something very different.  She becomes paranoid and angry and threatens Ben if he becomes in any way involved with Elaine.  The problem lies in the fact that both Ben's parents and Mr. Robinson push Ben to ask Elaine out on a date.  He agrees after he is threatened by his parents with a formal dinner party with Elaine and her parents.  Because he is forced to take Elaine out on a date, he seems determined to make the worst of it and takes her to a strip club.  

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Understandably, Elaine gets upset and storms out.  Ben follows her, kisses her, and neither one can deny their connection to the other.  Ben finally finds someone who he can be open and honest about his fears with, someone who understands him.  Elaine can understand his struggles to figure his life out when no one else can.  "It's like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me.  They're being made up by all the wrong people.  I mean no one makes them up.  They seem to make themselves up."  Things go well and Ben asks to see her the following day.  And that's where things get complicated.

Ben pulls up to the Robinsons' and instead of Elaine waiting for him, it is Mrs. Robinson who then threatens to tell Elaine about the two of them.  Not wanting to risk that, Ben runs inside and tells her himself.  Elaine gets angry and throws him out and leaves to go back to college the next day.  After only one date, Ben tells his parents that he is going up to Berkeley and that the two of them will be married.
"Well, when did you talk this over?"
"We haven't."
"You haven't?!...Ben, this whole idea seems pretty half-baked."
"No it's not. It's completely baked. It's a decision I've made."
"Well what makes you think she wants to marry you?"
"She doesn't.  To be perfectly honest, she doesn't like me."

This is what I mean when I said before that Ben gets creepy.  Who has one date, tells their date that they've been sleeping with their mother, and then expects to marry them??  Ben Braddock.  That's who.  He follows Elaine to Berkeley, stalks her on campus, rents an apartment, and chases after buses so that he can follow her on dates at the zoo.  Yeah, nothing odd about that.  Elaine seems pretty rational until she goes to confront Ben at his apartment and instead of slapping him, requests a kiss.  He wastes no time in asking her to marry him and she does not turn him down, but tells him that she's agreed to consider marriage to someone else.  What?  Seriously??

Ben comes back to his apartment, on Cloud 9 because Elaine is considering marrying him (after one date and being under the impression that he not only slept with her mother, but raped her) to find Mr. Robinson waiting for him.  Mr. Robinson confronts Ben about the affair and tells him that he and Mrs. Robinson are getting divorced.  When Ben tells him he is in love with Elaine, Mr. Robinson pulls her out of school and only a few days later, she is set to marry the guy from the zoo.  Ben drives between Los Angeles to Berkeley about 7 times while Simon and Garfunkel play and ends up finding the wedding just as the groom kisses his bride.
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Ben makes a scene.  The Robinsons get upset.  The groom gets upset.  The bride leaves her new husband at the altar and runs off into the proverbial sunset with Ben.  I typically don't like to give the endings of movies away, but everyone seems to know the last scene or has seen it parodied numerous times.
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I love how this film seems to come full circle with the idea of not knowing what you are doing with your life.  Everything about Ben breaking up Elaine's wedding and Elaine running away with Ben seemed so exciting, but once they jumped onto the bus and sat down, reality started to sink in...what did they just do?  Is this really what they wanted?  Who really knows.  But I will say that, while somewhat irritating, when a film does not wrap things up in a tidy little bow, it can make for the perfect ending.  And in this case it does.

-Mrs. Robinson tells Ben that she is twice his age, but Dustin Hoffman was 30 when this was filmed and Anne Bancroft was only 36.

-The list of people who were considered for the roles of Ben, Elaine, and Mrs. Robinson is incredibly long and read like the 'who's who' of the 1960's.  See the casting section of The Graduate's Wikipedia page.  I've seen many names on this list verified by many other reputable sources.

-Essentially all of Ben's driving scenes are inaccurate as the car is headed in the wrong direction.

-Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) played Dustin Hoffman's landlord...are we sensing a theme here?

-Richard Dreyfuss was an uncredited boarding house resident

-While a perfect fit for the time, all the music in the film is from Simon & Garfunkel.  The original Mrs. Robinson was an unfinished song entitled Mrs. Roosevelt that was modified for the film and only finished and released after the film hit the theatres.

-The film was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, but won only one.  Mike Nichols won for Best Director.

I look forward to getting back to my Film School.  Such a fabulous time!  Have you seen The Graduate recently?  If so, what are your thoughts?

Happy Viewing, Lovelies!

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