The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★★

No. 247:
Empire Magazines Greatest Challenge: 301 films, 301 words

Based off Charles Webb’s novel, the synopsis of The Graduate is something that if spoken out loud might give the impression of a raucous comedy.

There’s a dryness that saturates the dialogue from Calder Wilingham and Buck Henry’s screenplay. Wilingham’s black comedy roots shine through here and stain even the film’s most earnest moments with an air of gleeful scorn. This is only made more focal and pogniant by Mike Nichols’ direction. Although only his second feature, this looks like the work of someone who’s been operating in the genre for years. He infuses an awkward, itching discomfort into every single sequence, which alone might come across as anxious or unrestrained but instead feels like the film is constantly on the verge of laughing at itself. His work with the incredible Robert Surtees and his gorgeously sundrenched and heated photography is just inspired, with every frame and unusually extreme close-ups designed to give the impression of a world closing in around Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock.

Benjamin is an uppity little sod with a nervous disposition that plays perfectly into Hoffman’s youthful portrayal. Should the film slow down for more than a few minutes we’d probably catch on to these alienating qualities. Anne Bancroft is gorgeously seductive and emotionally broken as the pining Mrs. Robinson, and her daughter Elaine is given a hefty amount of inner life by Katharine Ross.

What the film captures perfectly is that sense of a perplexed lack of focus from a youthful perspective, not just its late-60s depiction. Told that we have the world at our feet yet never able to figure out what we really want in those early years of adulthood. Confusion and spontaneity at the sight of any happy ending leading to that inextricable question that burdens the our cold, harsh reality: “Now what?”

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