Monday, January 3, 2011

- 'The Graduate' Open Thread

     What did you think?

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  1. I was reading through Matthew Coniam's excellent blog on movies when I saw this movie mentioned, and though Matt viewed it from a different frame of mind and a different time, his review brought the memories rushing back, and I could not resist revisiting it.

    I saw the The Graduate as being about a young man trying to find direction. He had come to a point where he had achieved those things his father had set out for him, and returning home he finds himself lost. He questions the path he has taken thus far in his life, recognizing it all as him simply fulfilling his parent's expectations, and wondering what his life might be about. The film was released in 1967, at a time of cultural upheaval and unrest, particularly with the nation's policies in the Vietnam conflict coming into question by the youth that were being asked to fight the far off war in Southeast Asia, but the movie was not about those issues, but rather was about a more timeless question for any young person growing up.

    I loved this movie, probably because I could really relate to the struggle Benjamin was having finding his way. The advice he was getting from the adults around him was completely unhelpful. Worst of all was Mrs. Robinson, who took advantage of the young man's confusion and distress to manipulate him into satisfying her own shallow, base desires. She was absolutely awful to him, and used everything she knew about young gentlemen to his disadvantage.

    It is not until Benjamin meets Elaine that he finds someone that might be able to hear him and understand him, and those are the things we all truly need - to be heard and understood.

    It's funny, but as the move begins we see this lost, searching, distraught person whose confusion make him seem rather weak and unappealing, but by the end of the movie we have really warmed to him, and feel with him as he struggles to break through the designs of the "grown-ups", who are all about perpetuating their own warped view of what makes for a good life. Benjamin rejects it all, and we see him rush to find Elaine, who herself is being whisked away to a life she has not chosen for herself. To see Benjamin wield that cross and then use it to pin his troubles away while he and Elaine make good their escape - it had me cheering for them both.

    The music of Simon and Garfunkle really added great texture and feeling. Their beautiful, sad, and haunting songs seemed perfectly matched for Benjamin Braddock's lonely journey. Their songs absolutely made the movie.

    I will comment more soon.

  2. In these stills, Hoffman looks like the beta version of Ton Cruise.

  3. Obviously, I meant TOM Cruise.

  4. He was a handsome young man, certainly, but what I loved about his portrayal was his deadpan delivery when answering to the various 'adults' offering him guidance or questioning what he was about. Mr. McGuire taking Ben aside to give him a single word of advise was a great moment.

  5. I thought this was so well done, from their use of photography to the music chosen to the images of Dustin Hoffman's character, all of which conveyed the sense of isolation and hopelessness that we sometimes face.

    One scene I felt was very effective was the scene where the Braddock's introduced 'the birthday boy' to their friends with the new diving suite they purchased for him, their insistence on bringing him out, the inability of Mr. Braddock to listen to what Benjamin was saying and to put importance on it, the hand of Mr. Braddock covering Benjamin's mask and pushing him back down under water, and the isolation and look of sadness in Hoffman's eyes spoke volumes for what had gone on in that family for years to bring Hoffman's character to where he was. Benjamin Braddock was a very nice young man, and his niceness blunted his ability to speak up and assert himself. The scene though was both hilariously funny but at the same time poignant to the story's sadder, darker truth. This issue Benjamin was able to resolve by the end of the show, but the question of what direction his life should take was still left unanswered.

    The film offered a number of images that have stuck with me through the years. One would be that of the red Alfa Romeo Spider (Duetta) that he drove with such determination in his effort to find Elaine. The trip up from LA to Berkley initially taken so leisurely, then his frenetically driving down to LA, then back up to Berkley, then down again to Santa Barbara, and the sound of that deep throated engine whining its way through the gears and changing pitch as it entered and left tunnels and moved through traffic - it was great.

    The dialogue was excellent as well, often times just for it's sparseness. I loved Hoffman's flat delivery in response to the the various grown-up friends of his parents.

    Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
    Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

    Here is a guy trying to figure out what he should do with his life, and feeling very unsure of himself, and this is the kind of ill-considered, ungrounded, tone-death guidance he receives. It was perfect.

  6. Jim, I am loving your comments. I tried to not read them until I'd seen the movie, but, well, it didn't work. But with any luck, I'll be able to watch it tomorrow.

    Any sign of The Bishop's Wife?

  7. I don't know where to start.

    The details are so wonderful. Like the music, and the absence of music; silence, and in the silence the natural sounds so unnaturally distinct, as they would be for Benjamin, trapped in impossible situations. Like the sound of ice dropping into glasses when he's having an unwanted drink pressed on him, or the sound of his own breathing as he is led out to show off his birthday gift of SCUBA gear.

    I loved the visuals effects that reflect Ben's mental state. Like the tunnel vision created by the SCUBA mask, as "Benjy" dutifully follows as he is beckoned to perform for his parents and their friends, and tries to ignore his own feelings. And the mirror image of Ben and Mrs. Robinson in the tabletop when she meets him at the hotel -- his life, his world, turned topsy-turvy. (That, BTW, has got to be the funniest scene in the movie.)

    And the clever bits that I might never have noticed if I were seeing the movie "cold." Like the opening titles, with Benjamin working his way through the airport, surrounded by the quiet, steady instructions from a endlessly impersonal voice giving the same instructions to everyone -- like the one-size-fits-all Rules for Life that he will have to begin to challenge when he gets home.

    And I love the story. (Or stories, really -- we have the Comedy of Young Benjamin, as well as the Tragedy of Mrs. Robinson.)

    Ben seems oddly morose in his retreat from his parents' party -- until we meet his parents. This isn't a party for Ben, it's an opportunity for his parents to hold court, and he is required to perform. He's been performing very well, so far: good student at a good college, Captain of This, Head of That, Managing Editor of The Other. Winner of a prestigious scholarship so that he can go be a good student, again -- and now that he has a moment to breathe he's realizing he doesn't know what he's been doing all the work for. He just knows he has not been doing it for himself.

    I don't think he even knows that he's angry and depressed -- he's too well mannered, and too unsure of himself, to acknowledge his frustration with the adults in his life telling him things but never talking to him, sure they know what's best when they don't know him.

    So much of this story is about isolation. Benjamin's isolation -- the isolation imposed on him, as well as the isolation he chooses for himself. The dreary dulling isolation that is preferable to being with people whose company is worse than aloneness.

    And Mrs. Robinson's isolation. That eye-opening scene in the hotel room when Ben insists that, for once, they "say a few words to each other" before they have sex. Our discovery that she was once a young woman who gave too much to a young man, and became a woman who built her life around the daughter she loves... and the husband she doesn't. Her pain in trying not to tell Benjamin that she needs him -- not because of feelings for him, but because she needs him in order to feel. And that she couldn't stand losing him to her own young, vital, beautiful daughter who still has her life ahead of her. So they quarrel, and offend each other, and feel bad about having offended each other. And finally it is Benjamin who says "let's not talk about it... Let's not talk at all."


  8. And what could be more heartrending than the image of Mrs. Robinson, small, cold, broken, and very, very alone, at the end of that barren hallway, having just lost both her daughter and her lifeline.

    I realize The Graduate highlights the very overt rejection, by the young adults of the 60's, of the lifestyles and world-views of the older generation -- and in that context the movie is somewhat dated. But I found a review from 1997 -- when the movie's 30th birthday was being celebrated -- by Roger Ebert, that surprised me in his inability to see anything timeless about the film.

    "Great movies remain themselves over the generations; they retain a serene sense of their own identity. Lesser movies are captives of their time. They get dated and lose their original focus and power. ``The Graduate'' (I can see clearly now) is a lesser movie. It comes out of a specific time in the late 1960s when parents stood for stodgy middle-class values, and ``the kids'' were joyous rebels at the cutting edge of the sexual and political revolutions.
    ``The Graduate,'' ... is a movie about a tiresome bore and his well-meaning parents. The only character in the movie who is alive--who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness--is Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Seen today, ``The Graduate'' is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter."

    The 1960's setting of the movie may almost be a character in the story, but nonetheless the film speaks to the more eternal truths about growing up and questioning the "old ways." Actually, I'm glad now that I didn't see this movie when I was younger, when I was too close to Benjamin's concerns about what to do next when it finally became apparent that doing what was expected, by parents, or the neighbors, or "the world," was an option, rather than a biological imperative. I'm much happier having been able to watch it, see it, both remembering my younger self, flailing around with my own case of the What now?'s, and as my "grown-up" self, much more able to fill in a few gaps about those un-named elders doing what they can with the choices they made, and a little more able to get through the What now?'s that never do go away -- just go dormant between unpredictable recurrences.

    As for Mrs Robinson being "The only character in the movie who is alive--who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness," it sounds as though Ebert was too focused on his disdain for Benjamin's throwing away "a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood" to realize that by refusing to throw away the chance to find what he really wants for himself with "her dorky daughter," Benjamin IS daring to seek his own happiness.

  9. Well, we can certainly enjoy this movie without any help from Roger Ebert. What was he watching? Benjamin gets to sleep with the ranking babe but throws it away? Well, its nice to know that Rog is so fond of Ann Bancroft, but he has missed the story entirely. Benjamin characterizes his time with Mrs. Robinson as nothing, and said it was little more than shaking hands...and he is comparing this to what? To the true feeling of understanding that he has with Elaine. Hey, Rog - he was not in love with Mrs. Robinson. He was in love with her daughter. Those were things that you did not have to be particularly penetrating to get, as the main character shouted it out in the scene where he was confronted by Mr. Robinson.

    Oh, what's the use. If he didn't get it in '67 I doubt he would get it today. The movie was not about getting lucky with Mrs. Robinson. That was something that he did not intend and in Benjamin's view it just 'happened'. But we know that it didn't just happen. Mrs. Robinson set her cap on the young Benjamin Braddock, and she was not thinking of what was best for him when she did so. But despite that, he broke through and broke free, and he helped Elaine break free as well.

  10. Honestly, it's almost as though he watched a different version of the movie! He talks about the weakness of the Elaine character, but it doesn't make any sense.

    She agrees to marry a tall, blond jock (Brian Avery) mostly because her parents will be furious with her if she doesn't.

    Where does he get that? Her parents might be okay with it, although she wasn't dating him when she was home during the summer -- but why in the world would they be mad if she doesn't leave college mid-semester to get married?

    When she discovers Benjamin has slept with her mother, she is horrified, but before they have ever had a substantial conversation about the subject, she has forgiven him--apparently because Mrs. Robinson is so hateful that it couldn't have been Benjamin's fault.

    ??? She screams at him to get out, and then has no further contact with him until he stalks her at college. Then she tells him her mother said he raped her. And when he tells her what really happened, she completely freaks out.

    Well, ol' Rog did acknowledge that he had been mistaken when he originally reviewed the movie and said the songs by Simon and Garfunkel were "instantly forgettable.'' :)

    But, speaking of Benjamin and the "handshake" line -- wasn't that scene with Mr. Robinson so sad? This man sitting in a dark room, waiting to confront the boy he watched grow up who has become such a destructive force in his world. And then to hear him say that the devastation "didn't mean anything."

    On a lighter note, I loved the scene where Benjamin careens into the gas station and then literally tears the phone book apart trying to locate the groom's father. Then the cover story to get the secretary to spill the beans. And finally,

    "Do you need any gas... Father?"

    I liked it. :)

  11. The songs used in the movie by Simon and Garfunkle were instantly forgettable?!! I can't get them out of my mind. They were beautiful, and really helped convey the story's feel. Cath, you're going to have to stop quoting Roger Ebert for me.

    And yes, one of the really interesting things that the movie was able to pull off was the comedy that they inserted into what was a really sad, serious, somber tale. Though ultimately our hero became a hero, and there was a great deal of happiness at the end, yet the story closes with The Sound of Silence and a serious, somewhat unsure look on the faces of our main characters, to say that the future is still unknown, and is for them to make.

  12. Well, that was great fun.

    Cathy, what might you like to share next?

  13. Imagine "Here's to you, Mrs. Roosevelt..." Mike Nichols (through producer Thurman) directed the change to "Mrs. Robinson" because he had pre-paid Simon and Garfunkel for original music and they were woefully behind having only one of the three original songs they contracted for. Simon played a few notes of a song he has been working on for his next album Bookends, including his original take on Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio, It's "Mrs. Robinson" now, said Nichols and so it was.

  14. There is a movie I've been wanting to watch, that I have never seen, but sounds like fun, and has good reviews and "scores": The 39 Steps (Hitchcock version).

    If you'd rather go with the actually-seen-and-recommended system, i would love to watch Laura again, or Babette's Feast.

    Any preferences?

  15. The 39 Steps I have seen, but I don't remember that well. I remember thinking it was well done. It's been maybe ten years since I have seen Laura. I remember it as being very moody and a lot of fun. I really liked Dana Andrews, and Gene Tierney was lovely. I have never seen Babette's Feast. They all look like good choices!

  16. Well, let's do The 39 Steps. I just read that there's going to be a new version released this year some time (there have been a bunch already!), so I''m more intrigued than ever.

  17. Okay, okay. Here is the actual link to the Roger Ebert 30 Year Anniversary Review of The Graduate.

    Roger's best line from the piece?

    "History has proven me wrong."

    Thanks, Rog.