"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

August 30, 2011

"The Graduate" (1967) (Film review)

The Graduate is a so-called iconic film from the 1960s, directed by Mike Nichols and with music by Simon and Garfunkel. Dustin Hoffman plays college graduate Benjamin, who has an expressionless face, wants to be left alone and refuses to socialize or think about his future. He drifts everyday dreamily in the family swimming pool.

Well, that is something you can do when your parents are well-off (and give you a flashy red sports car for your graduation). It may also be a typical attitude of those who came of age in the sixties. Later generations have learned that life is not so soft that they can passively let it float by.

Strangely enough, this is a youth film and it has the image of being rebellious. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Benjamin suffers a bit from the usual generation conflict, but in his deepest heart he is an arch conservative. He allows himself to be seduced by the wife of the business partner of his father, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), but considers their affair as "sordid." Is that the famous sexual revolution?

When Benjamin is next forbidden to date Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine, he on the contrary decides to marry her without knowing anything about the girl. Elaine (Katherine Ross) studies at Berkeley but she is only remarkable for her false eyelashes. Benjamin even goes so far as to kidnap her from the altar when she is marrying another guy (an idea copied from Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy). In the last shot they sit together in a bus, speeding away, and you see each of them wonder: What now? Benjamin has in fact done the reactionary thing, picking the girl his parents originally wanted him to marry.

So there is nothing at all subversive in this romantic bedroom comedy. Instead of a map to liberation, it offers only a key to conformity. It is still watchable and there are some funny episodes (Benjamin in a diving suit, finally finding peace on the floor of the family pool), but forget about the icons.