What can you say about The Graduate that hasn’t already been said countless times, really? It’s the film that gave a voice to a new generation, made Dustin Hoffman a star for life, and was probably the best career move Simon and Garfunkel ever made. Its impact is still felt today as not only are people still listening to the Folk duo, Mrs. Robinson is basically interchangeable with the abbreviation of MILF. This is all impressive, but the real reason The Graduate is a true classic for all time is because it has stood the test of time better than almost any movie ever.
Think about it; this movie came out almost exactly 50 years ago, but it still manages to feel fresher than probably every movie that was released in 2013. Why is that? There are a number of reasons. The most obvious, though, is because in its portrayal of the few characters that it highlights (there are literally less than 10) it depicts so many of the feelings and mixed emotions that every human being goes through as their lives go through transition. Crisis. Depression. Loneliness. Fear. Anger. Helplessness. Forbidden young love that turns into an obsession. We’ve all felt all of those. And they’re all tackled incredibly well in this film.
Perhaps an even bigger star than the actors and story to film buffs, though, is the gripping cinematography used throughout the movie. I’m usually not one for getting a hard on for this kind of stuff (you go through a couple of classes with Dr. DeMars and Dr. Duchovnay and tell me if you can retain a love for cinemassacre), but anyone reviewing The Graduate would be remiss not to mention it. All of the film’s best moments, from Mrs. Robinson’s conversation with Benjamin in the hotel, to Benjamin’s underwater escapades in his family’s pool, to the opening credits roll, to the final somewhat ambiguous conclusion (it’s not good news, people), are enhanced by Director Mike Nichols’ (who was a made man after this one, believe me) camera work. Nichols shoots the film almost like it’s a horror movie and the unique camera edits, pans and scrolls create moments all on their own, most notably in the infamous moment when Mrs. Robinson gives Benjamin that one last, tearful goodbye and during Benjamin’s glass-pounding freakout at the film’s climax. The cinematography is truly the star of the show, and it makes a movie that probably would still be viewed as great, into a timeless classic that grips the viewer at every turn.
I think what really makes me love The Graduate right now, though, is because I’m a recent graduate myself. At this very moment, I am experiencing many of the same confusing (and sometimes conflicting) emotions that Benjamin Braddock did as he worries about the next step in life and feels trapped in his own home. I, too, have felt the helplessness that comes with being in love but having almost supernatural forces working against my efforts in capitalizing on it. Sometimes, I do feel the need to just hop in the car and drive without any inhibitions about where I’m going. And the truth is, The Graduate doesn’t really give any insight as to what that end of the line is or should be. In the end, Benjamin and Elaine get everything they wanted, but still aren’t satisfied as they gaze into the eyes of all of the elderly on that bus and realize it’s still their future no matter what they do. It’s haunting, and what’s next for the young lovers, and for all of us who are unsure of our final destination, remain unanswered. And so we act in desperation. But even if it doesn’t end they way we wanted, what else could we do?