Mike Nichols directs Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross in this comedy drama about a young man who starts a toyboy affair with one of his parents’ friends.
“Hello Darkness, my old friend…” Probably one of the first movies made before I was born that I discovered and got passionate about (not including ‘juvenile’ stuff like Bond, westerns, Laurel & Hardy, Ray Harryhausen), The Graduate is achingly funny and beautiful. What struck me this particular viewing is how deft a portrait of undiagnosed depression it is. Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock doesn’t want to go out, doesn’t want to engage, doesn’t want to make choices. He can’t see the point in it all – his darkened childhood room or the bottom of his pool or the black lilo or a beer can are the only comfortable places to find respite from the world, not that he is any happier there but at least he is not bullied into bad decisions that may define his future. And he makes a terrible decision instead, to start a loveless affair with a middle aged neighbour. Anne Bancroft is amazing in this. Brittle, beautiful – she can destroy her young prey with a dismissive flick of her fag or a withering rub of the fabric of her clothes. That opening salvo where she completely dominates Braddock is indeed home to the famous quote “Mrs. Robinson – you are trying to seduce me …. Aren’t you?”… But there’s an even slyer line in this masterful sequence. As she opens her legs provocatively, cackling at a flustered Ben, he comes out with a wonderful gawky Hoffman reading of “…now you start opening up your… personal life… to me and tell me your husband won’t be home for hours.” That opening bullying setpiece is oh so intense, so much so that the movie has to completely restart after it. We fade to black and are reintroduced to Ben a second time, this time a shell of a man in scuba gear. There are so many masterful moments in this wonderful movie; the astounding series of jump cuts as Ben goes through the motions of meaningless sex and summer ennui, his horrific forced date with Elaine, the cripplingly funny scene where he tells his parents of his new intention to marry the girl who hates his guts, and the exhausting race back and forth across state to disrupt a wedding. Let us not forget just how disruptive that gets, absolute glorious chaos. The parents’ snarling faces… Elaine spitting that it is ‘not to late for her’ at her bitter, jaded mother… the look of uncertainty on both kids’ faces as they make their escape on a school bus, pretty Katharine Ross’ shellshocked gormlessness is a particular treat. The only jarring note in the utterly gripping second half is how little of Mrs Robinson we now get. The complex, superior but human creation that conquers Ben is reduced to a nasty evil Disney queen in just two brief scenes. I watched The Graduate at the cinema for the first time this week. It was glorious to experience the laughter of others at the killer lines and the emotionally apt soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel driving the communal experience like an engine. I wrestled between this and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as my Film of the Week. It was a hard choice but they actually compliment each other very, very well. Although this was made 18 years earlier, it could easily be a bleak sequel to John Hughes’ optimistic classic. They share the same keen observance of youthful concerns, the whipsmart lines of dialogue, generational struggles and engrossing mad dash finales. Benjamin Braddock could easily be a post-college Ferris. A boy who was master of all he surveyed at high school now frightened and repulsed by any pathway being forced onto him. A persuasive and relentless grifter to get what he wants who suddenly finds himself desperately adrift in an adult world he shares no values with. The Graduate is Ferris Bueller’s last hurrah before settling down to spreadsheets and golf club memberships. At least Benjamin got a car off his parents.