There are some movies that embody a certain idea or a specific moment in the life of people. The graduate (1967) represent the moment of indecision that comes a right after one of the most important periods of our life.
Ben Braddock has just graduated with honors at some east coast college. Typical all-American, Ben has no idea of what to with his life. His WASP-y parents have organized a luxurious party to celebrate his graduation as soon as he gets back home in L.A. County.
The movie opens with Ben taking his flight back home accompanied by the song that most represents the confusion and indecision that he is struggling with, The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel. The soundtrack of the movie is one the most famous in movie history and the use of music in The Graduate has inspired generations of filmmakers.
The scene of the graduation party is emblematic as it shows Ben’s detachment from its parents’s materialistic aspirations and the pressures of the bourgeoises to conform to their customs. Everyone is asking Ben about the future while he is barely managing to breathe in the claustrophobic environment that director Mike Nichols has brilliantly managed to create. The Braddock’s family friends embody society’s pressure on one’s future. Ben has no idea of what to do with his life and he feels completely disorientated by this gang of posh and materialistic 50 years old that are as shallow as their cocktails.
Ben is seduced by the mature and apparently strong Ms. Robinson and start an affair that goes on for months. Ben’s affair with Ms. Robinson is the event that sets the film in motion. In 1967, a movie that represented a 21-year old having an affair with a married woman was quite transgressive. After more than 50 years, we can barely see the transgression in the relationship while focusing more on the emptiness of the two soul entangled in the sexual tension. In a purely materialistic fashion, their relationships is solely physical. They don’t share emotions but a big emptiness that pervades the lives of both of them. Ben is supposed to start working or studying for a Master’s degree but the anxiety for his future paralyzes him and crates an empty shell of indecision, simply drifting way in the pool of his parents’ house.
Ms. Robinson, whom we perceive through Ben’s point of view, is a rich and bored housewife that is looking for an adventure with the handsome young son of their friends. This perspective hides an important layer of interpretation. In fact, we learn that Ms. Robinson was a young art student that had to marry because of a sudden pregnancy. Her behavior explains a life of sadness and depression that ultimately turned the beautiful woman into an alcoholic.
In the final part of the movie, Ms. Robinson turns into a villain trying to impede the relationship between Ben and her daughter Elaine. The films does not give us the pleasure of the explanation of her erratic behavior but a double explanation is possible. She doesn’t want to let her daughter achieve that happiness that she never grasped but she also wants to protect her from the evil in the outside world.
The Graduate is also a beautifully shot film. The medium is used to its maximum and every camera movement conveys a specific emotion felt by our Ben Braddock, with Dustin Hoffman in his cinema debut. The symbolism present in the film is also of central importance. The theme of water is highlighted in several scenes. The aquarium in the hotel room where Ben and Ms. Robinson meet and the pool in Ben’s house. Both the aquarium and the pool are limited and finite body of water. They are comfortable and safe spaces but they won’t let their inhabitants dive deep into unexplored oceans. This is stark comparison with Ben’s path, a comfortable life that has been laid out for him that does not give the opportunity to face the reality and authenticity of something “different”. For his birthday, his parents have bought him a scuba-diving suit. He jumps in the pool while being pushed down by his father and just lays in the bottom of the pool, trapped in the materialistic prison with no tools for escaping it.