The Graduate (1967)

13Dec09

Mrs. Robinson, if you don’t mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange – Benjamin

Charles Webb‘s novel “The Graduate,” first published in 1963, wasn’t a sensation until  Mike Nichols turned it into the voice of the late 60’s, capturing the brink of lunacy the decade was about to stumble into: impassioned youth vs the old regime.  Webb was paid $20,000 and told to go away, not asked to assist with the screenplay, considered an eccentric. Regardless, this shouldn’t detract from Nichol’s vision but it’s a shame Webb wasn’t included in the creation and aftermath of its wild success. Nonetheless, Mike Nichols transcended Webb’s masterpiece and captured the mood of a growing number of young, disgruntled Americans, his comedy-drama appealing to most everyone.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) makes it clear he’s not enjoying his graduation party, his parents begging him to come down from his room and talk to everyone, none of which are his friends, but his parents. Methodically smiling and answering questions, he coasts through the crowd and returns to his room. His gloom is interrupted by the appearance of the elegant, attractive and older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), asking him to drive her home, which he reluctantly does. She doesn’t waste time, offering herself to have an affair which he nervously declines, but eventually relents.

They meet regularly at a hotel. Benjamin isn’t satisfied with their vacant relationship, but Mrs Robinson won’t have it, preferring to keep the affair purely on a physical level. While this goes on over the summer, Benjamin lounges at home, at the pool, in no rush for anything while his parents hound him to make a decision for grad school and show some initiative. We’re also introduced to the precious soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, the bare instrumentals wistfully washing over his warm summer of love.

Ben is favored by Mrs Robinson’s husband and encourages him to take out his daughter Elayne (Katherine Ross), along with Ben’s parents. Mrs Robinson is vehemently opposed to this, but a date is arranged nonetheless. Ben doesn’t disappoint, treating Elayne terribly, their last destination to a strip club with her storming out in tears, embarrassed.  He chases after her and quickly apologizes and unexpectedly, they make a connection, their chemistry blossoming into a relationship, effectively ending his dalliance with Mrs Robinson.

Mrs Robinson then threatens Ben to end his romance with her daughter or she’ll reveal their affair. Panicked, Ben tells Elayne everything. Ben is rejected by Elayne, horrified by the news, while Mrs Robinson listens in the hallway, her humiliation apparent. Elayne heads back to college and but Ben tracks her down, watching her from afar, and finally gathers the courage to face her and ask for a second chance. She reluctantly turns him down but before he can see her again, Mrs Robinson hastily arranges Elayne’s marriage to a friend, sending Ben on a wild chase to find the wedding and call it off.

Anne Bancroft was already a well respected actress in film and theater before this role, but it made her into an icon, ingrained in our memories forever as the seductive Mrs Robinson. Judged on its own merit, her performance is remarkable, her presence looming throughout the film, a formidable lover and opponent for Dustin Hoffman’s meek Ben, who grows into man by the end of his journey, in a break through performance. Released during the Vietnam war, it gave a voice to the youthful middle class, a surging influence ready for change, Mike Nichols’s delivering at the right time.

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