“Hello darkness, my old friend…”
The soft whisper of those lyrics is what comes to my mind whenever I hear mention of The Graduate. A mere glimpse of the movie poster and I’m humming the haunting intro in my head. However, as a ringtone, they only remind me that my student loans are due once again.
Next year, The Graduate, a film that defined a generation, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its 1967 release. Whether seeing it for the first or 50th time, the film’s humor, genuineness and (loss of?) innocence still resonate with audiences.
A quick surface summary of the film tells the story of a recent college grad, Ben Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman). Ben unwittingly entangles himself in the web of the upper-crust Robinson’s, friends of his parents, who just happen to have an exquisitely beautiful daughter, Elaine. As he aimlessly searches for his life’s path, he is seduced by the very focused matriarch (and subject of the infamous Simon & Garfunkel hit), Mrs. Robinson. The role of Mrs. Robinson would come to define the already seasoned actress, Anne Bancroft and not launch, but skyrocket, Hoffman’s career, earning him the first of many Oscar nominations.
By now, I assume most everyone knows the story of The Graduate. If you don’t, I have no words other than, WHY NOT? The nervous energy of Ben Braddock mirrors the apprehension most of us have felt when questioning the direction of our adult lives. The best selling soundtrack is still today the best possible example of the flawless bond between movie and music.
Director, Mike Nichols brilliantly chose the songs of Simon & Garfunkel to capture the raw personality of the film. The songs provide a lyrical map, guiding the audience through the highs and lows of the story. In fact, the aesthetic cohesion between musical composition and the listless energy of Ben’s character was so well done that it has been parodied many times, from movies such as Old School and Wayne’s World 2 to shows like Arrested Development and The Simpsons.
Although the music should be credited as a major cast member, we cannot overlook the role the cinematography played in giving the film the longevity most masterpiece’s boast. This is specifically evident in the last scene, as Ben and Elaine are sitting together in the back of the bus. They have both for the first time done something that they were not supposed to do and they are excited and relieved, but as the tape continues to roll, a wave of doubt and apprehension appears to overcome them. In my opinion, this scene transcends the entire movie. It could have ended on a light, happy note. However, it artfully links back to the opening scene of the movie.
One thing that I find so incredible about this film is the way that audiences relate to it. The 20-somethings first watching it in 1967 were experiencing a lot of changes—both socially and politically—brought about by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation and drug use. Some audiences saw Ben’s resistance to be a part of his parent’s conventional world as nothing more than a protest. Whereas others comprehended his actions as less of an act of rebellion and resistance, and more as a questioning of the values placed before him. However one interprets it, the feeling that seems to align with all audiences is the uncertainty of each person’s future. Reaching that pivotal moment in life, when you have to ask yourself, “Okay, what now?” seems to be synonymous with each generation.
I was inspired to re-watch the timeless classic, while seeing my little brother receive his high school diploma and prepare for the next 4 years of college. It prompted me to think back to my high school and college graduations. While each were filled with excitement for the next chapter of life, my graduation from college brought along a larger element of fear and uncertainty with it. It was the first time in my life where I didn’t know what was going to come next. For a lot of us, we grow up moving from grade to grade, from high school to college, then from college to the real world. Regardless of what is happening in the world at the time, most of us can relate to the distressing and sometimes haunting ambiguity of the future.
My rating: ★★★★★