The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★★

Mike Nichols, the multi-disciplined artist, passed away yesterday. When I read the news, I was amazed at how accomplished he was. Not only film, but stage and performance as well. He was one of the few who achieved the EGOT. Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. In fact, he had more Tony’s than any other stage director. Although he helmed many memorable films, there was none more memorable for me than The Graduate.

I don’t know when I first saw The Graduate, but I know I had seen it quite a few times before I was 16, as that was the age when I met my first love, Cheryl. Our first kiss, the first time we met, was magic. Soon we were dating, and soon it was time to meet her parents. She was a downtown girl, and I was an uptown boy. The parental perusal seemed to go well; they seemed to like me. After dinner, we adjourned to the living room where the TV was on. As I glanced over at it, I noticed that familiar figure on a moving sidewalk. The Graduate was just beginning.

My thoughts suddenly shifted from making a good impression on my new first love’s parents. Hell, my thoughts even drifted away from the opportunity of spending more time with my downtown girl. I just wanted to see that last scene. I looked longingly at the TV, and abruptly announced that I should be getting home, as it was getting late. Unfortunately, Cheryl lived three buses and two subways away. The whole time I transited, I felt the same anxious desperation as Ben on the way to the wedding. As I arrived at my parent’s apartment, after dashing the final leg from the bus stop, and violently twisting the TV tuning knob to the channel, I was immediately crestfallen as the closing credits had just begun. I had missed the final scene.

Tonight’s view just reinforced my love of this film. Visually, it’s understatedly spectacular; the cinematography never drawing attention to itself, yet continuously contributing to the story. When we first see Benjamin in the opening credits scene, he’s being pulled along by the moving sidewalk, as if life is controlling him, just pulling him along. The ‘frog man’ scene in the pool is where he finds isolation, almost like crawling back into the womb. All of the scenes racing around in his Alpha Romeo infer that he's breaking away, but yet he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. One of the most spectacular scenes, though is the pool-dive-to-bed-dive jump cut; it rivals Kubricks’ Bone to Satellite.

One can’t think of The Graduate without hearing the iconic strains of Simon and Garfunkel. Music and visuals dance together so seamlessly that they appear to be one. The faltering strums of Mrs. Robinson as Benjamin's Alpha chokes to a halt on his dash to the wedding is one example, and it’s just magic.

I’ve always loved Buck Henry, both as a screenwriter and an actor. The Graduate is a double treat, as he’s in both roles. Henry has a particular talent for ironic witty criticism with just the right amount of snark. Playful yet powerful. His small role as the bemused hotel clerk is a gem of a performance.

Speaking of performances, the virtually unknown Dustin Hoffman was incredible as the adrift collage star now faced with his future. Likewise Ann Bancroft’s rendering of Mrs Robinson couldn’t be more perfect. Seductive yet blaise; fiery yet sad. Elaine … she’s the heart. The heart doesn’t always know what it wants.

What makes the Graduate a masterpiece is Mike Nichols. His skill and understanding of the comedy, drama, and of Benjamin and his world is so complete that he created a film that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s both a snapshot of the time it was made, and also a timeless ode to growing up that’s still valid today. In short, the work of a genius.

Six months later, Cheryl dropped me, quit school, eloped, and ran off to Newfoundland. I didn’t even get the chance to shout ‘Elaine!!!!!’

God Speed Mike Nichols. Thank you.

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