I don't know if every generation has one particular film that defines it, but Mike Nichols' "The Graduate" is the one which defines mine. This masterpiece, with its themes of alienation, idealism, social consciousness, cultural and generation gaps, and the extraordinary music of Simon & Garfunkel, brings back strong and poignant memories of life in the late 1960s and early '70s. Many of the issues the movie addresses, however, are still relevant today.
Benjamin Braddock, (superbly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman), has just graduated from college. A confused young man who is awkwardly making the transition between adolescence to adulthood, he is totally unsure of what to do with his future, let alone what to do next. As the film begins, the Braddocks are throwing a party for their son, the successful new grad. All his parents' financially secure and affluent friends are there to celebrate. Benjamin is not one of the happy participants, however. He returns to his room as if it were the womb, and watches the aquarium. It seems as if he longs for comfort and clarity, but doesn't know how to express himself or whom to ask. He attempts to talk with his father to no avail. He will spend much of the summer like this, contemplating the tropical fish and his future - which he sure doesn't want to be "in plastics."
Benjamin is expected to enter the bland suburban Californian society that his folks move in, filled with unhappy relationships, materialistic brinkmanship, and manicured lawns. He doesn't know what he wants to do, but he definitely knows what he doesn't want. Enter the famous Mrs. Robinson, and may I say BRAVO Anne Bancroft! Bored and unfulfilled, she is married to Benjamin's father's business partner. She obviously feels that Ben can temporarily alleviate her situation when she seduces him - or attempts to. He is initially unbelieving and reluctant, but persuadable. Filled with self-loathing, he continues the affair, which only punctuates his ineptness and his emptiness.
Elaine Robinson, (Katherine Ross), daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, is about to come home from college. Benjamin is forbidden to date her, by his lover, who happens to be her mother. Talk about incestuous! Of course the now jaded Benjamin and the fresh, lovely Elaine will go out, fall in love, and you'll have to see the movie for the rest. The conclusion is brilliant.
Anne Bancroft, in her gorgeous prime, is perfect as Mrs. Robinson. She is also sad, sarcastic, manipulative, at times really b*tchy, brittle in her beauty, and vulnerable in the role. If it were real life I would have asked her what she was doing with the virginal nerd, when she could do so much better!
The film holds up so well today, not only because of the brilliant acting, direction and screenplay, but because the Graduate's problems are not dissimilar from what many youths experience now. Nichols won the Best Director award for this movie. His pacing is fluid, and his imagery metaphorical, at times chillingly so. Writers Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, (working from Charles Webb's novel), did a remarkable job with their satirical, off-beat screenplay. Simon and Garfunkel songs, including "Scarborough Fair" and "The Sounds of Silence," give the film a wonderful lyrical tone.
A five-minute interview with Dustin Hoffman and a fascinating documentary "The Graduate at 25" make up the extra features on the DVD, along with a limited edition 64-page book with production notes and a collection of articles and reviews from the original theatrical release.
I remember watching "The Graduate" for the first time in 1968, and really relating. What can I say? I was young! Naive as this may sound, I did identify with the feelings stirred by the movie and performances. I still do, very much...no matter how retro. Now after almost 40 years, this is a classic!