Welcome to a new segment of Cinematic, “Film Analysis,” where I briefly discuss certain elements of movies. To inaugurate this bit, I’ll be looking at Dustin Hoffman’s lead character in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate.
After returning home from graduating college, Benjamin Braddock doesn’t know what to do, lying around his home and drifting in his pool as his parents and their friends pester him about his future plans. The Graduate is completely reflective of Benjamin’s unease: the world around him is confusing and hectic, with multiple talking faces whose voices pass through Ben’s and the audiences’ heads.
Referred as one of the launching pads of New Hollywood, not to mention the career of Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate brought many of the film techniques from the New Wave of French Cinema, such as its rapid cutting and surreal montages, to the American filmmaking. Yet, as noted by Jonathan Rosenbaum in his essay “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” whereas a director like Godard or Truffaut made pictures that centered of the filmmakers themselves, Mike Nichols placed his emphasis on characters. Focusing on that angle, The Graduate could be seen as escapist material, as Ben’s affair with Mrs. Robinson adds fire to his previously unlit life. Clearly Ben is dismayed with himself; when questioning Mrs. Robinson he realizes the two are incompatible with each other, with Robinson wishing to find a way to escape her loveless marriage and Ben looking to discover a meaning in his post-college life. The entrance of Elaine in Ben’s life seems to be the answer for the young man: both know the same anxieties and apprehension of the late 60’s. Ben’s quest for redemption and love at the end of The Graduate can thus be seen as a happy ending, uniting the two lovers finally together. Yet after Ben whisks Elaine away from her wedding, his smile turns to apathy, perhaps realizing that his future is still unclear. Nichols ends The Graduate the same way he began it: Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” indicating that Ben still has little clue on his impending path.