American Film Institute 100 Film List -
AFI Rank: #7
Year Released: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Actors: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman
This movie really defined the 1960s generation, earning it a spot in the top 10 AFI films of all time. For a neat, cozy post World War II world, this movie breaks open with intimate discussion about an intergenerational affair, confusion about how to become an adult and what path to take in life.
At first glance, from a post-2000 point of view, The Graduate might seem an odd candidate to have been in the top 10 AFI films of all time. Many of the themes it deals with have been addressed many times since. You have a young man, just out of college, trying to figure out what to do with his mature life. You have an older woman who decides to take him on as a boy-toy. You have his confusion in sorting out how to break free of the affair and how to seek what he really wants in life.
It's important to put this film in context, just as Gone with the Wind has its context. In this case, the movie came out in the late 60s. Children growing up in post-World-War-II families had been raised in a world of stay-at-home mom and apple pie, with back yard bbqs and TV families which were squeaky clean. Parents in families didn't even share a bed!
Bring into this world a discussion where the young man didn't immediately start walking on the treadmill in life, settling down with a white picket fence, a pristine wife and a dog. Instead, he drifted aimlessly, got advice about "plastics" being our future, and was drawn into situations that he wasn't exactly keen on - but he didn't resist very hard either.
Some might complain that the movie is too "slow". The whole point of the movie and the soundtrack is that it IS a lazy, drifting situation going on. Simon and Garfunkel's movie about Mrs. Robinson was written just as a snippet for this movie - and then extended when it became so popular. On the other hand, Sounds of Silence was already popular when it was included into this movie. Both are slow, meandering songs that have great meaning. They bring a great surround atmosphere to the great acting and dialogue.
Near the end of the film, Dustin Hoffman's character Ben has shaken off the bonds of the older Mrs. Robinson and is now in love with her daughter Elaine. Ben finally takes a stand in his life and goes to the church to run off with Elaine. There's a scene which many feel is evocative of Jesus Christ, as Ben stands with arms outstretched. It affects how they interpret the scene. Actually, the only reason Ben has his arms out like that is that the footage was shot in a real church, and the people at the church were afraid that Dustin would break the glass that protected that top pew area. They made him stand like that to ensure he didn't cause any damage. It's a case where real life "prop" concerns affected greatly how the end result movie was interpreted.
In addition, a very telling moment comes at the end of the movie. Ben has done it. He's saved the woman of his dreams, and the two are setting out for a new life together, side by side. And yet, look in their eyes. They're drifting again. They're going to settle down into the exact same world of their parents, the one they were trying to escape from.
It's hard to say that "only people alive in the 60s will really appreciate this movie". Any of us can put ourselves at least partially into an era's mindset, with some reasonable amount of knowledge and research. I adore Casablanca even though I wasn't alive when it was made. Still, I understand that people who were reared on high-porn, high-energy movies about "cheaters" might not be patient with some of the subtleties presented here. I can only suggest that you settle in for this movie, to see where some of the environments and dialogues of your modern favorites found their roots.
Male vs Female Actors
There are some great female roles here, which is nice!
The Bechdel Test
I saw this movie before I knew about the Bechdel Test. Do the two main female characters ever discuss anything but men?
Buy The Graduate from Amazon.com
AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100