Directed by: Mike Nichols
Premise: Ben (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college graduate, begins an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner. Things get complicated when Ben falls for Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter (Katharine Ross).
What Works: The Graduate was one of the earliest of the New Hollywood films and it establishes a number of styles, techniques, and themes that later became key to the New Hollywood movement. The cinematography of The Graduate demonstrates how staging a scene and picking the right camera angles can heighten tension and create subtle effects that change or enhance the subtext of the scene. Two famous examples are the shot that frames Ben between Mrs. Robinson’s thighs, and another deep focus shot of Ben as he runs toward the climax. The editing of scenes like Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s first confrontation uses insert shots and quick cuts that were unusual and quite new to a Hollywood film at that time. The editing works in collusion with the camera angles to give a sense of sexual tension as well as cinematize Ben’s anxiety. The music of The Graduate is one of the most outstanding features of the film. Composed and performed by Simon & Garfunkel, the music captures the pop sound of the late 1960s while also supporting the plot points of the story. The soundtrack includes cuts that have become classics such as “Scarborough Fair,” “Sounds of Silence,” and “Mrs. Robinson” and this music is repeated throughout the film in ways that reveal insight into Ben’s character and function in the story almost like a narrator, cluing us into his thoughts. As a piece of New Hollywood cinema, The Graduate takes on the issue of sexuality and plays out a scenario that, if dealt with superficially, would be merely a shallow male Oedipus fantasy. Instead, the sexuality of The Graduate is much more complicated and is part of a larger, more intricate character study of Ben as he navigates through the hypocrisy of society and the expectations placed on him as young man. The film also deals with female sexuality in a way that is extraordinarily even handed. The film does not condemn Mrs. Robinson or Elaine for their sexual desire but it does hold everyone accountable for their actions and plays out the complex emotional and social issues associated with sexuality, infidelity, and love.
What Doesn’t: Those expecting something more along the lines a contemporary teen sex comedy like American Pie won’t find it here, although coincidentally that film makes direct reference to The Graduate in its use of the song “Mrs. Robinson.”
DVD Extras: The 40th Anniversary edition includes commentary tracks, documentaries, screen tests, a trailer, and a second disc of Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack for the film.
Bottom Line: The Graduate remains a gem of American filmmaking. The humor still works, its drama is just as upsetting, and the film’s take on themes of growing up and coming of age are still superior.
Episode: #205 (September 21, 2008)