The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★

Both Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are creeps, I don't think that's a particularly controversial conclusion to come to, but they're both creeps who've largely been made that way by the society surrounding them. However, there's a major difference between them in terms of how they've been moulded, and it comes up during the scene where Benjamin tries to find something to talk about with Mrs. Robinson. After initially stating that she has no interest in art, Mrs. Robinson reveals that she was lying, that she was actually an art student in college, and that while studying there, she had a one-night stand with the future Mr. Robinson which resulted in the conception of their daughter Elaine, forcing her to marry him and abandon any plans she might have had otherwise so that she could become what all women would be made to strive for under the insidious guise of traditional values: a wife. She even starts quietly crying, just to hammer it all home.

And therein lies the difference between them. Benjamin is celebrated for graduating college by his rich parents and their rich friends who see much potential in him, but he feels aimless, directionless; he's a creep because he's awkward, not a kid anymore but not truly an adult yet, trying to figure out what normal human behaviour is supposed to look like. Which isn't anything to sneeze at, mind you, but Mrs. Robinson also had potential, also likely had a direction, and instead of those things being celebrated, they were stolen from her; she could almost have been a possible vision of a future for Benjamin if he was a woman, but since he isn't, the worth of his goals - whatever they may be - isn't even questioned. It's no wonder she ended up as troubled as she did; with her life taken away from her like that, why wouldn't she drown herself in drink? Why wouldn't she become a creep?

So it's disappointing, I think, that the second half goes in the weird direction it does, and that the nuanced balance between the two characters seems to end. Benjamin's shiftiness is not only exacerbated through his stalking of Elaine, but it's not even shown in a particularly negatively light; meanwhile, Mrs. Robinson turns into a straight-up villain who falsely accuses him of rape (a hilariously pointless aspect of the plot that's brought up once by Elaine and then never mentioned again). Elaine's behaviour is also really weird; I'm not sure how, when or why she goes from thinking that Benjamin raped her mother to believing that he didn't to falling in love with him (again?), but it's some really dumb writing, especially for a movie that otherwise has writing that's not particularly dumb.

And then the nuance is restored through that ending: Benjamin and Elaine, having fled from her wedding, sit next to one another on a bus, going who knows where. And they go from being happy to... puzzled, awkward, unsure about what's gonna happen now, somewhat dissatisfied. "The Sound of Silence", a song used previously to represent Benjamin's insecurities about his life, plays once again. These aren't star-crossed lovers fleeing towards happiness; this is both of them about to become very unhappy because they weren't really sure what else to do. Elaine may even end up just like her mother, and in his own way, so may Benjamin.

In short, this is a very sad film about very sad people.