Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Definite Top 10: ‘The Graduate’

Yesterday I watched Mike Nichols’ ‘The Graduate’, perhaps for the 50th time. It’s safe to say it’s one of my all-time favourite films. I think it’s difficult to find a film that manages to deal so well with such thought-provoking issues as self-identity and alienation, in both a serious and lighthearted way.

Dustin Hoffman maintains that he and Katherine Ross were last resorts for the roles of confused graduate Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson (the sensitive daughter of Mrs. Robinson). However it’s difficult to think of better alternatives.  The film explores Benjamin’s sense of a lack of meaning in his life, alongside his relationship with both Elaine and his previous affair with her mother.

The soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel songs is, for me, one of the best elements of the film. Aside from being a massive fan of the music itself, the sense of both fragility and certainty in the words and songs perfectly mirrors Benjamin’s own state. The song ‘The Sound of Silence’ fits his condition in the film so well – as well as just being a wonderful song.

The originality of the directorial style is another way in which ‘The Graduate’ marks itself out. While appearing a classic rom-com (Doris Day was considered first choice for the role of Elaine), the film manages to offer a refreshing twist in its style. For example in the famous shot of Benjamin through Mrs Robinson’s legs, as well as the camera acting as Benjamin’s vision when he wears the scuba goggles. This was very different in filmmaking at the time and is still interesting to watch today – making it an exciting kind of rom-com.

The script, written by Beck Henry, was adapted from Charles Webb’s novel. Some of the lines – delivered by Hoffman in the most brilliantly awkward way – are just hilarious. My favourite scene by far is Benjamin telling his parents he’s decided to marry Elaine, despite her not knowing… ‘well, what makes you think she wants to marry you?’ his father asks, ‘oh she doesn’t. To be perfectly honest she doesn’t like me.’ It’s difficult to describe just how amusing the contrast is between Benjamin’s confidence in such a bizarre declaration and his parents’ bewilderment.
I also love the slightly unorthodox, ‘happy’ ending (I won’t explain incase anyone hasn’t seen it) which leaves the viewer satisfied without feeling that they’ve been cheated of a credible ending. While Benjamin and Elaine are together, there is definitely a sense that their escape is full of uncertainty – seen through the separate shots of their concerned faces. It’s most definitely worth a watch or re-watching if it’s been on the shelf for the last 10 years… I’d say its brilliance lies in dealing with issues that certainly don’t lose significance over time, in way that makes the viewer laugh, cringe and reflect – somehow all at the same time.

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