By now, there are certain films that should be made lawful viewing. There should be a precedent, and a criminal punishment for those who reach a certain age without ever seeing these “cultural and historical films.” The late director Mike Nicols possible has most of his films inducted on my imagined list of “watch or be scorned” movies. For example, Closer and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf are perhaps two of the most unnerving yet utterly real excavations of the human spirit on celluloid. Yet one of the few films that passes the lips of everyone and transcends passionate cinephiles lips to become a significant audience loved film is The Graduate.
Re-released today for its 50th Anniversary, The Graduate is still potent as it was back then. And we are still seduced by its ways.
For those who are unaware, though I feel like I shouldn’t have to, The Graduate revolves around Benjamin Braddock, a young man of the titular variety who is at a loss with what to do with his life. When his family go into business with Mr Robinson, he is seduced by the housewife Mrs Robinson. Only as his parents push him towards her daughter Elaine, he finds himself conflicted with feelings over the two women.
The Graduate gave Nichols his first Oscar win and it’s no wonder. This definitive American drama captured the tinges of comedy and sorrow that come about through the tripe and forced suburbia that different stages of age and regret encompass. Astutely aware of the picket-fence drawl and uncertainty of characters, writers Buck Henry and Calder Willingham alongside Nichols astuteness for drawing out the human ferociousness in his players enhance that minute frustrations that lead people to capture some loss of their essence. Whether it is Braddock attempting to find identity in an affair in a post-college haze, or Mrs. Robinson trying to live vicariously through her daughter or regain control of her own ennui through sex with a young man, there is no denying that The Graduate portrays a cynical yet real look at life behind the curtain net. As the desperation and youthful attraction take hold, the turning tide in the film is wrought and sublimely wielded by Nichols who finds whimsy in his breaking characters.
The Graduate also marked a breakthrough for now acclaimed actor Dustin Hoffman. Despite playing Braddock, an exasperating and often dislikeable character, Hoffman manages to draw you in to the tale and enthuse Braddock with a humanity. What he achieves is a gentle reminder of how post-graduation haze can feel and how that could urge you to act unjustly against those around you. Hoffman achieves the equilibrium of the character through an astute emotional current. Opposite him is the fiery yet excellent Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson and Katharine Ross as Elaine. The two women who enchant Braddock give equally stunning and evocative performances that solidify this film in greatness.
Often misinterpreted (I believe at least) as some whopping romance or mislead as a superfluous comedy, this is bleak yet humorous melodrama that happily and intellectually captures something deeper than a quick fuck with an older woman. Certainly, as someone who has suffered from what I like to call “The Arsehole Years,” it really harnesses the effect of “Oh, is this life now?” and the subsequent mistakes you make after you take away that flat cap and robe. What’s more is that placing the film in the hands of Mike Nicols is a benefit. His direction acts as an observer, allowing the story to unfold rather than over-saturate.
And let’s not mention than unforgettable and impeccable soundtrack that has transcended the movie into extraordinary heights…
Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…
The Graduate returns to the cinemas 23rd June!