The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★★

The Graduate represents a perfectionist's magnum opus, a film so layered that if one missed a minute of a key scene, his/her understanding of the entire allegory will change (the key scene is, of course, the ending, but more on that later).  Every single aspect of this masterpiece, from the blocking to the props, symbolizes a well-developed idea about teenage rebellion, and I mean every single aspect.  

Look at a tiny detail like Benjamin's room number at the hotel, 568.  Five and six are corresponding numbers, while eight is one number off (meaning the seven between six and eight is skipped).  We have two numbers together (five and six) and an outlier (eight), similar to Ben's relationship with his parents during his act of rebellion with Mrs. Robinson; he is an outlier from his parents' views on behavior.  568 illustrates why exactly our graduate elicits this affair!  If you can dissect a room number like this, imagine how much everything else can be understood!  

The music, too, has extreme purpose, and I'm not talking about Simon & Garfunkel's lyrically driven songs.   Take Mrs. Robinson's seduction song, Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha.  Many musical scores are there to build on a tone, though few actually build on a story.  Sunporch does the latter.  Its dance-worthy, cat-and-mouse structure creates perfect dramatic irony, allowing the audience to anticipate and understand the situation before Benjamin (very similar to John Williams' score for Jaws).  Paul Simon's lyrics do the same, but again, more on that later...

The sound was another essential piece to The Graduate's puzzle.  Dirty and sudden, the sound boggles the mind by the minute.  On my first viewing of Nichol's film, I was very turned off by the sound editing, particularly during Benjamin's more neurotic moments (and especially during the last scene, but more on that later...).  Honestly, upon my second watch, I still don't completely understand 100% of it. I can grasp the tonal qualities of it, but not its thematic reason; I guess I have more reasons to watch it again!

Robert Surtee's lighting and cinematography amaze me upon every viewing of his many works, but The Graduate is by far his most artistic achievement.  From the dolly-zoom between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin to his fantastic final frames (more on that... oh you know the drill) act as the audiences only true gateway into Benjamin's mind.  His neurosis appears through dialogue, sure, but his unfamiliarity and fear lie solely in the photography.  Plus, if it weren't for the coloring, the editing wouldn't be so perfect.

Speaking of the editing, Sam O'Steen performed one of the greatest editing jobs ever.  Of course, Nichols should be credited with it, too, as he seemingly shot the film in a very wholistic way, making sure the editing would work just as much as what was currently on production.  The loop from his behavior in front of his parents to his in front of Mrs. Robinson is a brilliant sequence, as is the final one (which I will discuss very soon, I promise).

It is well-known at this point that Hoffman---and every actor on set, really---didn't think they were right for their part.  Nichols was extremely worried about the final cut of the film, particularly in casting nobodies for the main roles.  Hoffman, however, gave the performance of a lifetime.  He perfectly captured the root of Benjamin, using every word of the dialogue as a sentence of its own.  To the very last scene (just a few lines away), he managed to blow audiences away.  

Everything I mentioned comes together, finally, in one elegant blow: the final scene.  From the moment Hoffman calls for the bus to stop, The Graduate becomes turned on its head.  A film that mostly glamorizes teenage rebellion finally delivers its thesis through a perfect mix of sound, cinematography, music, acting, and editing.  As The Sound of Silence beings to pour into our eardrums from the dead silence before it, our leads slowly come to terms with their actions, the cameras not allowing you to look away, until finally, we sharply exit the bus and stop, the bus leaving us behind.  So much raw power is crammed into so little time, an entire 100 minutes implodes before us.  

That, my readers, is the work of a genius.


Poster Review
Theatrical Poster: 10/10
Criterion Cover: 12/10

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