Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Graduate

The Graduate
Directed by Mike Nichols
1967, rated PG
4 stars

While The Graduate is a familiar name in film lore, not many really seem to know much about it. What people mostly remember is that famous picture of a young Dustin Hoffman looking awkward over a woman’s leg in the foreground. While the film moves slowly at times—often due to the sparse yet annoyingly redundant Paul Simon music—director Mike Nichols has created a wholly entertaining and, occasionally, thought provoking piece.

While this classic includes many fascinating aspects, such as the apparent symbolism, the superb acting, or the fascinating cinematography, perhaps the most intriguing quality is the plot itself. Set in sunny picturesque California, Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, freshly out of college. The question repeated to young Benjamin throughout the film is the typical “so what are you going to do now?” to which Ben constantly replies in his infamous monotone “I do not know.” This lost character, although common in many films, is played flawlessly by the then-young Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman’s wooden, deadpan portrayal brings the character to life in a way that nothing else could, easily and naturally demonstrating Ben’s innocent, awkward unease. Mike Nichols’ excellent choice of casting continues with Anne Bancroft as the seductive, self-assured Mrs. Robinson. Bancroft’s performance cleanly contrasts that of Hoffman, creating a unique tension between the two characters that really makes the film believable. Hoffman’s stuttering dead-pan dialogue accentuates his character’s innocence when placed next to Bancroft’s smooth, sensuous commands. Bancroft and Hoffman work as a team throughout the film, playing off the other’s opposing character, yin and yang; these two carry the film.

Inspired casting and superb writing aside, director Mike Nichols also makes many excellent dramatic decisions that aid in setting the seriously humorous tone and feel for each scene. One doesn’t need a doctorate in English to recognize the water as a symbol of escape and a time of transition throughout the film, and Nichols’ cinematographic choices accentuate the different feelings of the movie. At times when Ben feels pressured and semi-claustrophobic due to his surroundings, the audience gets the same feelings with close, tight camera shots, jumping from one face to the next. Similarly, the seduction scene with Mrs. Robinson is heightened by the sensual shots taken through her legs, over her legs, under her legs, or wherever else her legs may be. Ben’s confusion is shown not only through Hoffman’s stuttering grimaces, but also through erotic flashes of flesh and body; with these flashes, one really senses Ben’s conflicted feelings on whether or not to look at the naked beauty before him. At times the cinematographic sequences may leave the audience dazed and rather confused, as in the rapid time changes where Hoffman flops from frame to frame, simultaneously in his pool at his house and with his married mistress in bed. However, once one realizes what is happening, all becomes clear and the audience can sit back and enjoy the perhaps slightly heavy-handedness of the transitions.

The Graduate is appealing not only as a mirror for conflicted youth. Although it’s possible to analyze the movie in many profound ways, this film can also be enjoyed purely for its comedic value. Comical lines combined with Hoffman’s hilarious acting make for memorable quotes. Who, for example, could ever forget the look on Hoffman’s poor, confused face when he declares “you’re trying to seduce me!” but immediately remembers his insecurity and questions pathetically “…aren’t you?” In some ways the film could be classified as a “romantic comedy.” With Ben falling in love with the daughter of his married mistress, and effectively disrupting her wedding to another man, many who love romance flicks will find this film highly amusing and Hoffman’s performance of Ben irresistibly adorable. Although, beware, don’t expect the stereotypical riding-off-into-the-sunset type ending, as the film ends on a slightly deeper note, giving the audience some room for thought, if they so desire. This movie is not just for hopeless romantics, however, and anyone who enjoys classic comedy will love this film. So, here’s to you Mrs. Robinson.

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