Film of the Day (06/02/19): The Graduate

Written By Calder Willingham and Buck Henry and Directed By Mike Nichols

I think it’s safe to say that we are all a little worried about our futures. But, personally, I never had my own Mrs. Robinson. And that’s probably a good thing.

This was Dustin Hoffman’s breakout role in 1967, and it’s easy to see why. He does a great job as Ben, the newly-minted college graduate trying to figure out his plan for the future when an older, married woman comes along and throws his life into chaos. He knows the affair isn’t right, but feels entirely powerless to stop it when it begins. Anne Bancroft is perfect in that role, giving off as much class as she does sex appeal, gaining his affections across the board. She portrays the exact amount jealousy she feels over Ben dating her daughter that we would expect. She wants to be seen as an object of as much desire as her daughter, and when Ben falls for her instead, Mrs. Robinson simply can’t handle his decision.

Director Mike Nichols crafted an instant classic here, capturing the mood of the late 60s with a wonderful soundtrack and open ideas about sexuality. He got a lot out of his cast and, working with Robert Surtees as director of photography, achieved some great shots. The early party scene follows Ben at an uncomfortably-close clip, really pushing the sense of claustrophobia that comes with everyone having such high expectations of you at such a stage in your life. One friend of the family wants him to get into the plastics industry, but says only a few words, assuming he will take that idea and run with it to a long and successful career. It’s constricting, and that scene plays into Ben’s mindset wonderfully. Things open up, literally and figuratively, once Ben begins to make his own choices, whether they are seen as right or wrong.

Calder Willingham and Buck Henry wrote a very good script that hits all the right notes. They didn’t try too hard and overwrite their characters, trusting the actors to fill in the blanks for them. The finale of the film sees Ben interrupt Elaine’s wedding before running out with her and boarding a bus, leaving the wedding party and families shocked as they ride away smiling. But their smiles give way to a hint of underlying doubt. Have they actually done the right thing? Do they really feel this strongly about each other? Hoffman and Katharine Ross play this scene beautifully and help a great film end on an iconic note.

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