The Graduate

The Graduate

Went into this expecting nothing more than an outdated and irrelevant time-capsule, only to find myself proven completely wrong from the film's very first frame (a close-up of Hoffmann set against a white background which zooms out to reveal his faceless surroundings, already hinting at the central character's total isolation from the outside world). Nichols use of the camera here is nothing short of inspiring, every zoom resonating with interior meaning, every composition utilising both space and semiotics to further the film's broad and complicated drama - a film which is expressive in its elucidation of isolation (something as simple as Hoffman floating in a pool turned into a hazy montage of cross-fades and refractions) whilst remaining keenly aware of how to use the frame to turn something as small as a glance into something powerful.

From the very beginning of the film there's a crucial disconnect established between parent and child - one generation dictating a future informed by past regrets, another generation confused about whether they find themselves on track to a life in which they truly desire. It's from this uncertainty that the affair with Mrs Robinson is born, a parent perhaps hoping to grasp something that they'd thought lost, and a man who want's to pursue something that's not informed by his own parents materialistic ideas of 'what's best for him'. It's made clear that this isn't a healthy relationship for either individual, Hoffman playing up the insecurities which drive his character to continue the affair (it's telling that he only consummates their mutual attraction when it's suggested that he may be inadequate), and Mrs Robinson painted as someone who's confident exterior seems to house years of pain and wistful regret. Robinson is constantly framed within Hoffman's point-of-view, either a looming figure who seems to follow him within the frame, or a romanticised representation of his lustful desires (see the iconic shot of him framed between her legs) - in small moments when Nichols breaks from this POV we see the complicated individual underneath, but it is continually established that what is shared by these two people is just as much projection as it is affection (this makes the scene where Hoffman attempts to truly 'connect' with Mrs Robinson all the more interesting, as we see a genuine sense of warmth shared between the two, but also begin to grasp how empty this affair is for both parties).

This is what makes Elaine the crucial point of difference for Braddock - their connection isn't one brought about by feelings of inadequacy or rebellion, but of actual understanding (however flimsy it may seem). On their first date they are framed sitting together in Hoffman's car, the outside world moving around them whilst they converse for hours upon end - there is no longer a disconnect established between Hoffman and his lover, both now sharing the frame with equal measure. And yet, even in this small, beautiful moment, there is a certain falseness, a romanticised view of love that Nichols subtly teases out as we see their relationship progress. They may be sharing a special moment of understanding, but it's an understanding once again created and informed by the very forces which they think they're fighting against. This is why the ending remains so utterly effective, Nichols fully immersing us within the youthful rush which both characters feel as they outlandishly fight against those who want to persecute them (the soundtrack combining with the frantic camera-work to make it almost farcical), yet even as the two seem to have won this romantic battle, a creeping unease begins to seep into the frame. The future is no less ambiguous, their relationship may very well come to reflect that of their parents and the connection that they share is one more fleeting than either would care to admit - one cannot fight the terror of uncertainty, no matter how hard each character in this film tries.

Luke liked these reviews