We’re entering that season again where someone we know will be donning the cap and gown and maybe they’ll be crossing the stage to be given their diploma. So ladies and gentlemen, our movie for the week is The Graduate. Released in 1967, director Mike Nichols had an absolute hit on his hands. This was his second film in which he’d directed for the silver screen after starting out in the theatre world. I along with many others love this movie so much so without further ado, let us turn off the-sound-of-silence and enjoy the Graduate.
A major theme in this film is that of isolation or emotional detachment. Through dialogue, camerawork, through the somber soundtrack. There is so much that reinforces this idea that everyone is living only for themselves. And what’s worse is that most of these characters seem to like that. It’s Mrs. Robinson who seems to see the walls built up around her. Walls she chose to build up herself. Actress Anne Bancroft who embodied the character of Mrs. Robinson said something I really liked about her role “...I gave a voice to the fear we all have: that we'll reach a point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be - and that we're ordinary.” Carrying the weight of this on her shoulders, it’s no wonder that Mrs. Robinson can smell the same desperation in Ben Braddock, the new college graduate. Which makes sense why she approaches Ben in the first place. Many that graduate can relate even today that feeling of leaving academia when that’s what you’ve done your entire life. And you’ve been so busy and you accomplished so much during your time in school that once you leave, life feels so quiet. And the next step is not obvious to you. And the pressure to start the next chapter in the most impressive way can be immense. And when you find yourself in that position it can feel as though every interaction is a performance and you’re merely only meant to entertain the onlookers around you. Thus making it hard to relate to anyone in the circles around you. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Ben was brilliant in communicating that without ever saying anything.
Most film directors who come from theatre tend to focus on getting the performance to be just right. Then camera work subsequently becomes more basic and proscenium (if that makes sense.) However when Mike Nichols paired with Director of Photography Robert Surtees, a masterpiece was born. (And it’s funny that I said that because Surtees was the DoP for (1976) A Star is Born.) The first part of the film intentionally is given a glassy or plastic look. It reinforces the coldness Nichols wanted audiences to feel. If you notice, water was used as a motif to symbolize Ben’s feeling out of depth with his life. Glass barriers were also deliberately used to cut characters off from one another. An interesting camera trick was also used to play on western audiences’ psychology by having things on screen go from right-to-left. To western eyes, movement as such feels unnatural because we are used to reading from left to right. All in all, The Graduate involves some of the most profound camera work so keep an eye out for it when you watch the film.
This movie is just fantastic. It’s no wonder that by this film’s third year of being released, it had become the third highest grossing movie to that date. The Graduate has also earned a spot on the AFI top 100 list. This movie is really a “filmmaker’s film” though I believe everyone should give this a watch. It is currently available to watch on HBOmax. Good ‘ol HBOmax. Let me know what you think of it.
How do you react to The Graduate?
> I only want to ask one question. I know there are some who are confused by this movie. Actually I think all of us are a little confused. Do characters’ actions confuse you? Because we never know why these characters act the way that they do. But that’s also why this film hits home personally. In our own reality, there’s a bunch of characters that seem to do these things without much thought or logic to them. And then in turn, we react without much thought or logic. And it takes a long time before something can bring us down to earth again.