I'd like to spank the Academy

The Graduate (1967)

the-graduate-poster1Directed by Mike Nichols

When I was a sophomore in college, my roommate and I were talking about movies late one night. I don’t remember how it came up, but I admitted that I had never seen The Graduate. She was shocked. “But Melanie,” she said, “you’ve seen every other old movie out there. How have I seen an old movie that you haven’t seen?” I didn’t want to admit to my more sophisticated roommate that I hadn’t ever watched it because I was so uncomfortable with the subject matter; I had no interest in watching a forty-something-year-old woman and a man in his early twenties have sex. Now that I’ve seen it, though, I’ve learned that I was worried about the wrong thing. Nothing explicit is shown. No, what did make me uncomfortable was how very awkwardly that young man handled the affair.

So what’s the story? Benjamin Braddock has just graduated from college and come home to California. On the night of his welcome home party, his neighbor Mrs. Robinson asks him to drive her home. Once there, she tries to seduce Ben, but he gets spooked and leaves. He can’t stop thinking about it, though, and phones her one night to ask if the offer is still open. They begin to have an affair. It’s all going well until Elaine Robinson, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter and Benjamin’s contemporary, comes home from Berkeley. At the insistence of his parents and her father, who is unaware of the affair, Ben takes her out. But now he has a new problem: he’s starting to fall in love with Elaine.

The Good: Dennis Hoffman is ridiculously awkward as Ben, and it was fun to see William Daniels (without his Bostonian accent!) as Mr. Braddock. But Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross were the standouts for me. I had only seen Anne Bancroft do comedy before, so it was a revelation to see her as an unhappy, alcoholic predator. And Katharine Ross did wonders with the part of Elaine, a girl in a seemingly impossible situation.

The soundtrack is fabulous. It features several Simon and Garfunkel songs, including “The Sounds of Silence”, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”, and (of course) “Mrs. Robinson”. Good stuff.

I feel like the cinematography is a standout, too. There are lots of interestingly-composed shots that add to the emotions of moments in the film.

Like Bonnie and Clyde, this movie has an excellent ending. It’s not exactly happy, but it’s not sad, either. It fits the mood and the theme of the movie perfectly.

The Bad: I know that Mrs. Robinson is the villain of the piece, but I wished I had gotten a better sense of her motives. Why was she seducing Benjamin? I understand that she was unhappy, but that didn’t feel like enough of a reason to seduce the son of your husband’s business partner. I would have been better convinced by the movie if I had had more of an understanding of her character.

The Ugly: I get embarrassed for people very easily, and there is a lot to be embarrassed about in this movie. Ben is just so awkward, especially at the beginning of the affair. He is so far out of his depth that it can be hard to watch. I’m pretty sure that that’s what the director was going for, and he definitely succeeded. But man. Sometimes I just want to shake Benjamin and say, “Ben! Stop trying so hard! Also get away from that crazy lady!”

Oscar Won: Best director.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Dustin Hoffman); best actress in a leading role (Anne Bancroft); best actress in a supporting role (Katharine Ross); best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium; best cinematography.

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