The Graduate (1967) Directed by Mike Nichols
One's standing or stature is a strange thing. Personally, I really don't care about such distinctions. I rarely judge people on where they fit into the scheme of any given situation. Yet people's behavior is effected by success or a fall from grace, it's usually a signal to disengage. I have experienced this on a few occasions. It can leave you bruised and confused.
This dilemma faces Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in The Graduate. He starts out as a very popular and successful student who's future seems bright. Loved by family and family friends, the expectations for Ben's future are high. Ben can't take the laurels, the pressure throwing him into anxiety. During the course of The Graduate Ben loses his stature and the respect of those closest to him. Ben goes from winner to loser to what exactly?
The standing of The Graduate as movie gold over the years is beyond question. The Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, the innovative editing, the picture of wealthy middle class suburban youth rebelling against their parents all introduced something new to the cinema. Ann Bancroft as Mrs Robinson, the family friend who Ben starts an affair with is excellent here. But I've watched this 'perfect' picture many times and it still end's up feeling hollow. Implausible character and plot twists lessen the impact. Bored and cynical housewife Mrs Robinson turns into a monster. Elaine (Katherine Ross), Mrs Robinson's daughter, forgives Ben his extra marital affairs too easily. Ben falls in love with Elaine after two meetings.
The Graduate is entertaining, its role as iconic cinema beyond doubt. Its influence can be seen in the cinema of Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and many others. But this film has holes as big as Swiss cheese. Flawed.
The Graduate is undeniably good looking and stylistic cinema. The choice of making Simon & Garfunkel music so central to the atmosphere also serves to create a high-class continuity throughout the story. I feel like I'm watching an old 'how to' -guide for years to come.
This time around I was surprised by what actually creates the storyline for The Graduate. It is a psychological drama with the biggest shifts and changes happening inside the characters' minds (off-screen). The portrayal of emotions, the development of infatuation or hatred, or the internal conflict of the main character to begin with are all understated. This choice of distance runs through the film from style to the distanced acting. A numbness has set in. In my opinion the film suffers from a psychological condition.
Dissociation is the word I am looking for. The Graduate is dissociating on many levels: Dustin Hoffman's Ben is often found in states of blank staring, in various degrees of disconnectedness to his surroundings and people close to him. His response to his emotional impulses seems more compulsive than anything else.
I also claim that the whole story of the film dissociates because it chooses to tackle purely emotional content but then it remains so distanced from the causes and effects that everyone and everything seems to be covered by a bell jar.
In the end my biggest complaint is that I do not know why Ben fell for the daughter of the Robinsons and I have no explanation as to why she cared for him. The ending scene with the run-away bride is forever imprinted in my dreams though; when sleeping, I sometimes rerun it to feel the exhilarating sense of freedom on the back of the bus.