Fantasies and Realities of 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.”
The Graduate is one of my favorite Classic films. It continues to echo the big question of: ‘What now?’. What’s remotely morbid about it is that, I and perhaps most people on my generation, can still relate to it even decades after.
The Graduate is about a promising young man named Benjamin who, after finishing college, was welcomed into a grand homecoming by his doting, overbearing parents. Benjamin finds himself in the crossroads where he has absolutely no idea what to do with his life, but he knew exactly what he wanted to be: To be different. And that itself humanizes his character and sets his actions in a logical response of what will be known as the (in)famous arrangement with sultry and enigmatic Mrs. Robinson.
Benjamin, in his straight-laced, awkward glory, is not a difficult prey for the more experienced, more worldly Mrs. Robinson, who perhaps out of middle-class boredom or between a tragic unfulfilled life, chose the hapless Benjamin for an act which satisfies them both, physically and psychologically. As shown in frequent symbolism in the movie, Benjamin spends his days drifting idly on the pool and sinking deeper into that ‘need’ to break the ‘rules’ by sleeping with a married woman twice his age. He then learns more about Mrs. Robinson’s character and we, as an audience, learned how she turned out to be one of the most sympathetic characters in movie history. Their arrangement took a sudden turn with the arrival of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, from college. Despite Mrs. Robinson’s warnings, Benjamin develops a relationship with Elaine and he sound found himself enamored with the thought of being in love with her. Shortly after, Elaine discovered her mother’s adultery and went off to college, angry over Benjamin for having ‘raped’ her mother. Benjamin runs off after her like a love-struck fool and in the end, he manages to regain her forgiveness and the two started a relationship.
But Elaine’s parents decided to marry her off to someone else. In movie history’s one of the most iconic moments, Benjamin runs off to the church to stop the wedding, calling Elaine’s name repeatedly while banging on church glass. Elaine turns around and screams his name just as dramatically. They escaped the church together, fighting off the angry shouts from their parents, and recklessly chasing a passing bus. In any typical romantic film, the movie would have ended with them laughing together at their great escape, or maybe with a passionate kiss. But The Graduate finishes in a note that’s both puzzling and enduring, one that leaves you with so much thought on how actually deep this movie truly is. As sickeningly cliche as this may sound, you have to see the movie to understand it.
From the very start, Benjamin’s life, coupled with over-controlling ‘weird’ parents, is literally contained inside this vision of grandeur his family and the society have constructed around him. When you think of it, him recklessly jumping off in an illicit affair with Mrs. Robinson provides a perfect ‘escape’ for him, a ground where he can be ‘different’ and break the rules after dully following them all his life. That also explains his defiance over Mrs. Robinson’s pleas to not develop a relationship with Elaine. Like Benjamin, Elaine is probably more or less controlled by her own parents, as emphasized by the marriage they forced her into by the end of the film. It’s safe to assume that Elaine and Benjamin are in the same shell, and probably by being together against the wishes of their parents, they are thinking that they can break away from that shell by running off and leaving everything else behind.
But as the road stretched before them, they sat in silence at the back of the bus, their laughter gradually fading. That’s the time they’ve realized that there is no ‘authority’ to struggle against anymore, no expectation they have to meet, and worse of all, they are burdened with each other now. There’s no turning back. It’s left to us viewers wondering if their rebellion bears a good fruit or not, and personally, these endings get on my nerves but I’m unable to stop myself from praising these classic finishing touches if they are well done. With the famous ‘Sounds of Silence’ creeping in, The Graduate leaves quite an impact it desired, one that’s both unforgettable and subject to endless debate. Does it end in
a happily-ever-after? Will Benjamin and Elaine grew to be like their parents, the very people they loathed to become? What exactly did their action accomplish? Do they really love each other or they’re just in love with the thought of freedom and seeing the satisfying anger their defiance brought?
Either ways, The Graduate manages to let the audience draw the conclusion based on our respective philosophies about life. Some of us would like to think it’s a happy ending, while others would draw to a more realistic conclusion. What we know is that the film has no intention to answer Benjamin’s big question at the very beginning of the film. Instead, it brings us to the same question we’ve all been struggling for at the beginning: What the hell happens now? And that, in itself, makes The Graduate one of the boldest movies of all time, contextually and metaphorically.
Posted on May 8, 2014, in reflections and tagged Anne Bancroft, classic films, decisions, Dustin hoffman, Films, life, Mrs. Robinson, rebellion, The Graduate, uncertainties. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.