Ah, The Graduate, one of those films which the old guard of film critics generally won’t be very sceptical of. It was made during a time of turbulent cultural shifts, and partly due to this timing, it’s often interpreted as a metaphor for the generational gap between the idealistically hip youngsters of the then-new hippie era and the jaded materialists of the older generation of that era. This interpretation is common, and even I believed it when I first saw the film two years ago, but that would be a very flimsy way of looking at the film, especially if were looking at it 49 years after the culture it depicts was at the peak of prevalence. I actually like the film, but I want to look at it honestly in this review.
The premise of the film revolves around a 21-year-old college graduate named Benjamin Braddock (played by a Dustin Hoffman when he was 29), who finds himself being seduced by a much older woman named Mrs. Robinson (who implies that she’s 42 but is played by a 35-year-old Anne Bancroft), and then becomes genuinely attracted to the woman’s daughter Elaine. After bungling his affairs with both, he tries desperately to repair his relationship with Elaine, to point of trying to stop her marriage with another man in one of the most famous scenes in movie history.
The story is pretty good, but it’s important not to focus on what others have said of the film, as that may taint your own perception. In my case, I tried taking it for what it was, but while I actually enjoyed the story, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the film is essentially a 1960’s time capsule. It’s sold as a coming-of-age story but plays out like a parable on the inherent naïveté of the younger generation. After all, why on Earth would Ben allow himself to be seduced by an older woman? Did it ever occur to him to just say no, or does that conflict with the narrative the film is trying to sell? Also, I found the ending completely unbelievable. Why would Elaine go with Ben after agreeing to marry another man? In real life, she would probably ignore him at best, or at worst her husband would beat him to a pulp.
To my understanding, it might have been easy for the younger generation to sympathise with Ben when the film originally came out, but when you look at it without any sort of bias, the whole generational gap narrative falls apart. I find that Ben is a complete wimp, completely unable to resist Mrs. Robinson’s advances, and when he tries not to be a wimp, he acts like a jerk instead. I suppose I should expect nothing less when a 21-year-old is being played by a 29-year-old, which to me makes Ben’s portrayal quite disingenuous. The same goes for Mrs. Robinson’s character. Older viewers may arguably sympathise with Mrs. Robinson more, but I don’t really sympathise with either of them, because I’m 22, and I find the idea of having an affair with a married older woman (let alone one who has had children) to be rather abhorrent.
Even with such character flaws, I felt that the acting was very good. Dustin Hoffman, even though he plays the worst character in the film, gives the best possible performance as the confused, idealistic graduate the writers had envisioned. I also think Anne Bancroft did a good job at playing Mrs. Robinson, conveying the character’s jaded sense of self-loathing, and the other characters performed well in the film, though more in terms of drama than comedy. The jokes might have been hilarious back in the day and parts of the film still are, but I personally consider it more of a drama film than anything else.
Most people remember the music, which mainly consists of music from Simon & Garfunkel. Their song “The Sound of Silence” is frequently used as a pacing device, and it’s done in such a way that the song itself actually becomes catchier as a result. The film looks and sounds great even to this day, and despite it being very much a film of its time, its striking visuals tend to hold up.
While I could argue about the story and characters and how they are interpreted to no end, I found the film to be quite enjoyable. I don’t hold it to the same high regard as mainstream film critics do, but I feel the film certainly has its merits, and has definitely stood the test of time.
- Score: 72%
- Grade: C