Written by: Calder Willingham & Buck Henry
Starring: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton
A defined line in life appears from when we stop being a child in the eyes of everyone around us and essentially become an adult. No specific marker indicates such a time for each individual, but the personal line gets felt. Becoming an adult brings expectations of what the rest of one’s life will become, which puts plenty of pressure on young adults. The Graduate follows a rather dull protagonist through quite the predicament and it certainly teaches him a valuable lesson in adulthood and decision making.
Returning home for the summer after another year of college, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) gets bombarded with what he should do when he enters the working world, thus thoroughly overwhelming him. After driving home family friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) her seduction sparks an affair between the two, which only gets more complicated as the story goes on.
Nailing down the success of this feature comes with examining two competing figures. One dragging the feature down and the other elevating to “great” status. The story put together in The Graduate asks complicated questions and features excellent directorial work but the lead character is just incredibly boring. Normally this would drag down an entire feature, but in this instance, everything else surrounding him just comes together so well thus allowing me to excuse it all. As the drama continues to unfold following the affair between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, at times I just sat back thinking what all of the characters in this feature find so appealing about him. Benjamin does not display any interests, lacks confidence, has no sense of humor, and no offense to him, but he’s portrayed by Dustin Hoffman. His days get spent by moping around the pool all day and then spending his evenings with Mrs. Robinson. All of this drama about him simply happens because he’s the main character of this story not through any genuine factors of him being a captivating and appealing person.
However, looking at Mrs. Robinson as a character leaves for a much better character study. A woman who obviously no longer has much sexual affection for her husband, her particular interest in Benjamin raises many questions. After all, as a long-time friend of the family she has seen him grow up into the 20-year-old we all see on screen. What flipped the switch for her this go-around with him? She has the confidence of a woman who has experienced life and simply wants some excitement of sorts, but it does not get received, at least in the way the film captures the intimate moments between the two.
The sexiest scene between the two unquestionably proves to be the initial seduction where nothing physically happens between them. Every other scene where they lay in bed together has this particular intentional staleness to it, which once begs the question, what is she receiving from this affair? It certainly appears as if she does not enjoy the experiences but continues to go through with them only further emphasizing the sadness of this woman. The performance of Anne Bancroft cannot be undersold here as well as she completely carries the film. Her melancholy, confidence, annoyance, and rage carry every scene she features in even making Benjamin more intriguing by secondhand greatness.
Along with Bancroft’s performance, the direction by Mike Nichols really takes the cake in further outlining these characters with his technique with the camera. The use of reflections says plenty about the perception of the characters, particularly Benjamin. Particularly in the initial seduction scene, Benjamin can barely look at Mrs. Robinson, and leading up to their first sexual encounter, the way he first sees her comes from the reflection of the table. A supreme lack of confidence on his part and Nichols displays it so well along with the progression throughout the film. Nichols has such a distinct way to capture moments of dialogue between characters and helps every character with a truly dull Benjamin to be fascinating. Truly a director’s film in every sense of the phrase.
On most occasions, a film with an uninteresting protagonist fails to keep my interest for very long but when the filmmaking displays this level of excellence, it just elevates everything else. The relationships get messy but the story stays refined to tell a vital tale of stepping into adulthood and the pressure that comes with it. Every decision has actual repercussions and the impact of Benjamin’s causes ripples through everyone in his life leading to one of the great final scenes in all of cinema. It asks what will occur after making big life decisions and it may not be as crystal clear as other Hollywood stories would make it seem. A finale showing a level of honesty piercing through the naive belief of everything working out in a happily ever after situation.