The Graduate celebrates an individualistic degree through a rebellious seductive affair. Education. School. University. Youths study laboriously to achieve a certification of results, optimistically indicating their achievements. Multiple years of tedious self-study, stressful late nights and fatigued lectures culminate into an indicative pass or fail. Regardless of the end result, several determined graduates are then plunged into the real world with no exact-defined aim. For the first time, no route has been devised for them. Wandering lost souls of high intellectual capacity, pondering the tempestuous road ahead. Depressed. Lonely. Afraid.
Take Benjamin Braddock for example, a recent college graduate who had just received a bachelor’s degree. Confronting the intimidation of unknown measures, his parents glorify the numerous accolades and potential future their son has acquired to his neighbours during a soirée. Visibly unhappy, he abandons the party. Perched on his bed, shrouded in silence. A confident knock on the door echoes through the room. It’s Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner, insisting he drives her home. With much trepidation, he does so. Only to then be welcomed by a wave of seduction. A poignant moment in Ben’s life, to which he discovers a rebellious side that overwhelms his moral obligations.
Nichols’ comedic drama, with a slight hint of adolescent romance, is a quest for individualism. A momentous chance for an irresolute soul, unsettled by the sheer potentiality of his future, to discover himself through an immoral act of adultery. Equipped with awkward mannerisms and youthful destructive capabilities, Ben enables an older woman to temporarily manipulate him. Seamless scene transitions, exquisitely edited by O’Steen, traverse the ornate balance between lustrous love affair and familial restraints. confining Ben into a prison of self-doubt. All the intellectual brain cells in the world could not prevent the temptation of immorality. Even Mr. Robinson calmly advised Ben to “sow a few wild oats”. However, underneath the physicality of their relationship, is their daughter that Ben falls madly in love with. Forbidden to see her, otherwise the affair will be outed, Ben encounters a moral standoff that will determine his future. Love? Or lust?
Adapting Webb’s original novel of the same name would be a highly lucrative endeavour for all involved. The story, characters and plot ultimatums are instantly relatable to those who have experienced the educational system. Years of academic studies attempt to integrate adolescents into society, yet it is society itself that paves the route for individual futures. Willingham and Henry’s hilariously accessible screenplay supply the characters with substantial emotional resonance. The first half in particular is constructed as an offbeat romantic-comedy enveloped in classicism. Minimal crudeness, aside from the intricate quick cuts of nudity that emphasise Ben’s growingly awkward persona. No sexual activity. And certainly no cheap laughs. Ben’s first physical encounter with a female is illustrated off camera, perpetuating his inexperience.
Admittedly certain plot points have not aged well over the decades, particularly Mrs. Robinson accusing Ben of a fictitious rape and generally manipulating him through blackmail. However, it’s the blossoming yet equally awkward relationship with daughter Elaine that provides affable context. Many will cite the overwhelming stalking to be, well, overwhelming. Yet these two loved up individuals are young and dumb. They’ve never experienced this overbearing emotion before. Rapid marriage proposals mid-yawn is something that these two would be accustomed to, because they don’t know any different. Again, it may not have aged well for today’s computerised environment, but the rush sentiments undoubtedly work for these characters. Notably due to Hoffman’s purposefully monotonous yet understated performance, in what would be his first major break in Hollywood, that holds slight power over Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson. Nichols exquisitely directing many sequences with an abundance of silence, accompanied by Simon & Garfunkel’s well-suited folk lyrics, and physical distance. As if the two were imitating the loveless marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. Ross then adds a delicate dimension into the fray portraying Elaine, with several screaming outbursts and fluctuating feelings.
There is a tonal shift between the first and second half of the feature, due to the direction the story undertakes, yet the legendary closing shot cements the lovelessness of The Graduate. Ben, having now become-of-age and experienced the turbulence of immorality, believes he has found happiness. But a sudden face change, from infectious joy to fateful uncertainty, resides over him. For all the awkward laughs and raucous shenanigans Nichols orchestrates, the presence of ambivalence prevails. What does the future hold? All that remains is “The Sound of Silence”. “Hello Darkness, my old friend…”.