In the wake of the immense popularity of the French New Wave and other foreign film movements during the 1960s, Hollywood transitioned through an awkward and unpredictable phase. Audiences were flocking to the recent Godard or Bergman film, instead of the newest MGM film. Some Hollywood films were popular amongst contemporary audiences (i.e. Sound of Music and Lawrence of Arabia), but it was obvious that they couldn't compete with the most recent Fellini or Kurosawa entry.
This resulted in a slight change in the filmmaking climate during the time. Filmmaking techniques were creeping up on directors and audiences until they went all out in 1967. Most years in film deliver a fairly moderate number of accomplished films, but 1967 has too many to count. 1967 saw Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, The Producers, Cool Hand Luke, and many more. It was truly a groundbreaking year for film and was highly competitive at the Academy Awards. In the Heat of the Night took home best picture that year, and while it is a good film in the sense, my pick would definitely be The Graduate.
During the aftermath of his return back to college, Ben (Dustin Hoffmann) gets seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Ben sleeps with Mrs. Robinson for a while until a wrench gets thrown into the mix when Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross) visits her home during a college break. Ben develops feelings towards Elaine and develops a somewhat relationship with her, but she returns back to college. In the peocess, Ben receives feelings of disapproval about his relationship with Elaine from her mom -- Mrs. Robinson. Ben follows Elaine to college, and their relationship grows, but Ben hears that Elaine is getting married. What follows is probably one of the most iconic final ten minutes in any film.
In the past few decades, The Graduate has lost the attention and appreciation it received back in the '60s. I think that may root to the fact that The Graduate basically functions as a somewhat coming of age film. It helped kickstart the genre alongside other masterpieces like The 400 Blows. But, the genre has developed into a list of indie dumpsterfires and pretentious failures. Most critics, and even audiences based off the recent box-office numbers, have definitely noticed this and labeled The Graduate as one of the failures. The Graduate obviously feels cliche to the modern viewer, but those cliches are exactly what make it great. If modern-day critics recognize the level of influence The Graduate has and had on coming of age films, then it would recieve the same level of appreciation it did back in '67. It would automatically rank amongst other highly-influential masterpieces like Citizen Kane and Scarface (1932).
Of all the films I've seen over the decades, I don't think there has been a better soundtrack to fit the mood of the film than the songs of Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate. The songs call to mind feelings of uncertainty and isolation, which are the exact themes expressed in The Graduate. Also, they are just generally good songs. Before The Graduate, soundtracks functioned as just backing for a film, as opposed to a fundamental part of it. There were some moment of rampant music to help assist rampant scenes, but they were only surface level. It's weird to think of some version of The Graduate where the songs are absent, and that's exactly what makes them great.
Boiled down to its core, The Graduate is nothing more than some Romance movie. However, the contents of this Romance film contain extraordinary performances and direction that elevate it to be much more than that. When most people hear the name Anne Bancroft, they immediately think of her performance as Mrs. Robinson, Rightfully so, because she plays the role perfectly. Her presence in the film seems perfectly executed to the highest degree. She really executes a career defining role with Mrs. Robinson, and might be one of the best performances in the history of cinema. Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross give great performances too, but just slightly missing the level of greatness that Anne Bancroft captured. Similarly, Mike Nichols exceeds in quality with his role in the film. His camera movements and framing are clearly influenced by The French New Wave, but not to excessive proportions. He takes influence from a certain directing style while at the same time crafting something entirely new, which is exactly what makes a good director. For instance, the scene where Ben walks around his party and interacts with the many attendees. Ben obviously feels anxious and off-kilter with his conversations and instead of just relying upon Hoffman's performance to carry that energy, Nichols lends his fair share of craftsmanship into the mix. The people in the frame, except for Ben, are cut off and blocked haphazardly in the effort to relate the viewer to Ben in this scenario. And that's just a small and perfectly crafted detail in a film full of them. No other director deserved the academy award that year than Nichols, and the academy rightfully awarded it to him, astounding considering that the Oscars are wrong 99% of the time.
If I were to make a critique of The Graduate in any way it might be that there wasn't enough of Elaine in the film. Yes, she's there for a great deal of the film, but I feel that some points in the film would make it even more crucial for her to be present. Maybe it's because of the exceptional beauty of Katherine Ross or because she is just a flat-out interesting character both thematically and narratively. Essentially, Nichols crafts her character to be what Hemingway fans might call "the iceberg effect." 10% of her character is what is most present: Ben's journey towards marrying her and eventually escaping with him; and the other 90% of her represents the hidden thematic content within her character. On the surface, she's his love interest, but beneath that represents the guiding light for Ben to find his place in the world. At the moment, The Graduate places 10th on my rapidly changing list of favorites. Perhaps it's because of the music, the personal feelings I have towards it as I inevitably approach the chapter of uncertainty in my life (like Ben), or because it's just a masterpiece of a film. Regardless, The Graduate is rightfully crowned an all-time classic.
Time Stamp: January 2021