The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★½

Included In Lists:
Criterion Collection - #800
Strong Performances - Anne Bancroft

In our youths, we hope greatly for our future, we build upon expectations that may or may not be met, and often times we find ourselves stumbling past the point of no return, left with the pathways in front of us either blurred or uninviting, we hope for a silver lining or a revelation that would hopefully lead us to the right path. It is when we reach such a point, where we feel that dreaded angst towards our lives, we become selfish and demanding of ourselves, while simultaneously harmful and drained, many find themselves building the road blocks of a life unfulfilled.

This seems to be the outlook of the future under Ben Braddock’s eyes, played by the appropriately stoic and awkward Dustin Hoffman, inexperienced in much of life’s demands, yet positioned with a great sense of pressure of those around him, realising that he is unequipped with the tools that would pave the road ahead. Innocence lies deep within his heart, thus curiously motivated and also swiftly hesitant towards the seduction process of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a close friend of his parents, at least initially. It would be Mrs. Robinson’s impression left on Ben that would stimulate a slight change in his persona, panic-stricken at first, but soon finding immense comfort in her presence, providing him the experience that for so long, through the pressures of high school and college, have deprived him from.

Mrs. Robinson instils a sense of certainty and direction in his life, revolving a life on a particular schedule that brings forth happiness that was previously lacking. It is a relationship that is symbiotic, with Mrs. Robinson herself finding deep comfort in his presence, removed from the crumbling and disarming insecurities that runs through her, hiding away from the regretful decisions that shaped her present life, to once again touch upon the energy and flesh of youth, transferring back to a time where one can feel permitted to attend to such reckless adventure. A performance that is nothing short of insightful, one that is able to convey the deeper complexities of a woman, bringing forth the symbolic gesture of her presence in the story, yet given enough care to be conveyed as a flawed construction of humanity, she may reveal herself as antagonistic towards the latter course of the film, but through such, that human essence that would be found in the many that suffers from similar crutches remain intact and palpable.

Both were in a relationship that proved immoral but personally healthy, but as like any other element of life, random events and figures enter into our lives, our perspective changes, relationships that were once considered solid began to appear as rubble, new decisions and relationships are formed, thus forcing us to adapt and shift our priorities. What was once again a sense of hesitation and cruelty towards Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), became a natural evolution of genuine affection and tenderness, slowly moulding Ben’s life, earning new pleasures from her company, and began to feel the burden in Mrs. Robinson’s persistent demands and manipulations.

Much like Ben, Elaine possesses the angst-inducing insecurities that define a sense of vulnerability that is precise of her position in life, and due to the deep focus on the film’s exploration of Ben’s experiences, it is doubtful that if it were to place its camera heavily on Elaine that the result would be any different. Elaine and Ben’s relationship grows in the third act in a recovery process, attempting to make sense of their passions, losing oneself in the heat, unable to reboot their rational functioning. It would have been much easier for Ben to reflect upon his experience and move on with his life, but much like the drive of youth, there is a compulsion to feed one’s immediate desires, perceiving them as incentives of necessity. It would all lead to the film’s famous ending, arguably ambiguous in its atmosphere as it finds its two lovers initially enduring through excitement and adrenaline, slowly calming as they begin to analyse the decisions they had made, their faces shifting from optimism to doubt, almost as if presently scaling the benefits and risks of their chosen endeavour; leading us to contemplate, much like the characters themselves, to define whether such a pathway would be a fitting or regretful one.

Of course, The Graduate’s charms would not have tested upon the challenging nature of time if not for the experimental assembly of Mike Nichols’ construction, creating a film that aims to innovate the incorporated genres, while working through the confines of the Hollywood system, exploring new ways of expression, unafraid to heighten its metaphorical gestures through its mode of editing and cinematography, tightly held together by the achingly somber tunes of Simon and Garfunkel. It demonstrates a remarkable ability to reflect the internal rumblings of its characters, yet also paralleling its method of storytelling with the era of production, the countercultural era that seems to have bled onto the core of its storytelling and characters.

It could have easily conformed to the traditional methods of cinematic craftsmanship, and it could have butchered its story through oversimplification, but instead it defies all expectation, notably of those who viewed it upon theatrical release. It is one that would pave the way of what would be the standard of American cinema, yet throughout the decades, its own charm remain firmly intact, one that would prove further beneficial through subsequent viewings, surpassing beyond the definition of a comfort film, but instead an essential viewing that should be passed along the generations to come.

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