Friday, May 25, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #2 - The Graduate

Day 2 of my 10 films in 10 days is The Graduate (1967). My first day’s pick was The Apartment which I mentioned was age inappropriate for me when I first saw it as a kid. The Graduate is probably even moreso, given the brief titillating sex scenes (relatively modest by today's standards) and its storyline of a lost and disaffected fresh college grad named Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who realizes he wants something more than the stultified suburban lives of his parents and their generation. Bored and with some self-loathing, Benjamin enters into an affair with “Mrs. Robinson” (Anne Bancroft, actually only six years older than Hoffman in real life), the wife of his father’s business partner, herself the unhappy victim of unfulfilled dreams and a loveless marriage. Forced into a date with the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross), he soon rediscovers a measure of innocence and goodness, leading of course to an inevitable showdown with their families.

Like The Apartment, this is another sophisticated comedy drama—frankly, I’m not sure I understood a lot of the subtle, nuanced comedy when I first saw it, but at the time I still probably appreciated and recognized that this was a new kind of film. The Graduate marked the directing debut of Mike Nichols, a comedian who had made the transition to acting, directing on stage and, with this movie, film directing. The movie innovatively used shooting techniques not widely adapted yet to film like helicopter shots, fisheye lens, and telephoto lenses in deep focus (some have said Nichols used some techniques in vogue in television commercials). The use of existing Simon and Garfunkel songs for his score to set a mood, rather than a traditional film score, was also an inspiring decision. The movie, of course, also captured the zeitgeist, as a precursor to the youth discontent of the 1960s that was just about to roil the country and the rest of the world, fueled by Vietnam and the sexual revolution.

In addition to television, as a college student I had the good fortune to see this film on the big screen at revival houses and at my university. It was fun watching it with a college crowd—at one point in the film, Benjamin’s father (played by the great Anthony Daniels), asks his son, who is floating lazily on an air mattress in their backyard pool, “Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?” When Benjamin replies, “You got me!” the theater erupted in cheers and applause. Ah, the cynicism of youth.

I also loved the uncertainty of the last shot—when Benjamin and Elaine finally break free, they end up on a city bus and run to the back seat. A “What now?” look of uncertainty seems to undermine their joy of freedom as the film ends—somewhat undermining the “happy ending” of the film.

The original book of The Graduate, by Charles Webb, was in my home growing up. I eventually read it in college and found that, in adapting it, screenwriter Buck Henry pretty much tore out the pages of the book and used much of the dialogue intact.

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