#17 The Graduate

“It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
Ben Braddock

The Graduate is a story that is old as time. Boy meets woman. Boy is awkward around woman. Boy is seduced by this much older woman. Boy falls in love with much older woman’s daughter. And finally, boy is entrapped into telling much older woman’s daughter about his affair with her mother. All right, maybe the story isn’t so common.

The Graduate focuses on the recent college grad’s experiences. Ben, a track star and debate team captain, returns home after graduating college to a warm welcome, high expectations, and a shiny new Italian sports car, from his parents. The problem for Ben is that he really doesn’t want to do anything. He has no clear picture of what he wants his life to become. But, on the night of his homecoming Ben is trapped into driving his father’s business partner’s wife, Mrs. Robinson, home.

Upon reaching the Robinson household Ben is duped into joining Mrs. Robinson for a late night drink. Alone in the house, Mrs. Robinson plants a seed of seduction in young Ben’s head, and a torrid love affair ensues.

Not all is well for young Ben though. He quickly realizes that Mrs. Robinson does not love him, or even care for him. Unfortunately for Ben, the allure of steady sex without commitments is too much for him to overcome, and both the affair, and Ben’s quite obvious self loathing, continue. That is until Ben’s father forces him to take Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, out on a date. This is of course a strict violation of the only rule that the overbearing Mrs. Robinson has given young Ben.

In an attempt to not anger Mrs. Robinson, and maintain his steady sex-life, Ben attempts to show Elaine the worst possible time he can. Ben is quite successful in his attempts too. Elaine eventually ends up leaving the date in tears.

This is when Ben become truly likable for the first time. He explains to Elaine that he was intentionally trying to repel her because he is already seeing someone. He proceeds to tell her his story (a slightly censored version of course), takes her out for burger, and saves the date. Unfortunately for Ben a fatal error occurred while trying to cheer Elaine up, he fell in love with her.

This leads Mrs. Robinson to give Ben an ultimatum. He either has to leave Elaine of his own volition, or Mrs. Robinson will revel their affair. Not to give too much of the plot away, Ben chooses the latter and spends the rest of the movie trying to get Elaine to forgive him.

This is a romantic comedy that isn’t so romantic. It is raw and bleak, and in spite of the fact the Ben finds hope for his future through love, he never fully overcomes the morose state that he finds himself in at the start of the film.

There are few key themes to this movie that, if missed, could prevent the viewer from truly understanding this film. Ben, who is afraid of the future, returns home to seek comfort and he finds it in the much older Mrs. Robison. This sets up the first main theme of this film.
Many of the images in this film depict a need for motherly love. Ben’s return home, and his constant need to reside in his parents’ pool, shows his longing to return to the comfort of the womb. Clearly lacking a certain degree of confidence, this state would have been ideal for young Ben as babies are generally blindly loved by their parents before they accomplish anything. Ben, who has accomplished quite a bit, fears that his parents’ love is dependant on his continual success. Every thing, even the physical act of love with Mrs. Robinson, demonstrates this need in Ben.

Ben’s dependence on parental acceptance is finally overcome when he meets Elaine. He quickly casts aside his days enveloped in the pool, and his nights with Mrs. Robinson, for the proposition of romantic love rather than platonic. This is further illustrated when Ben flees his parents’ house and takes up residence at Berkley College. Sadly, all is not well for Ben.

The love that inspired him to grasp his independence was fleeting. And, while the couple lasted until the end of the movie, the looks on the faces of Both Elaine and Ben as they iconiclly ride away from the church in a bus, demonstrates the fleeting nature of love, and the need to grasp independence through one’s self, rather than through others.

The Graduate is an excellent study on the affect that love and sex have on a young man. The film is slick with comedic dialogue, and is well acted. The soundtrack, which was done exclusively by Simon and Garfunkel, was perfect for the mood of this film. And most importantly the story progresses naturally, with one exception. Ben’s love for Elaine seemed a bit accelerated, but lets face it, who wouldn’t fall in love with a crying, burger eating, joke telling Katharine Ross.