When you graduate college, it can feel people are expecting you to have the rest of your life figured out. For Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), he’s dismayed and worried that he has no idea what to do with his life. He comes from a well-to-do family, who throw him a big graduation party with all their swanky friends who have watched Ben grow up. This just puts the pressure on Ben, everyone fusses over him and asks what he’s going to do over and over. He just wants to get away, but Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) interrupts his alone time and asks Ben to drive her home.
Ben is too nice of a young man to deny Mrs. Robinson this simple request. But she manipulates the ride into requesting Ben to come inside and keep her occupied, alone in the house. Ben politely, and nervously, lets this go on with a drink and music, until he can’t deny what this looks like, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” With those fatal words, the cards are on the table, there is not going back and Mrs. Robinson continues to lure Ben into her trap. The lengths and boundaries Mrs. Robinson pushes as she tries to seduce Ben are shocking. Ben narrowly escapes at first, but with a long summer of nothing ahead of him, it isn’t long until he takes Mrs. Robinson up on her generous offer.
Ben does not see or think of them at first, but there are huge consequences to his affair with Mrs. Robinson. Later, when he plays with the idea of dating her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), she forbids it. A young man, just starting out in the world adulthood isn’t going to listen to an aging woman who only wants to casually him for sex, so he takes Elaine out to spite her. What Ben doesn’t plan on is genuinely liking Elaine and even falling in love with her. But Mrs. Robinson won’t let Ben have her daughter and threatens to tell everyone about their affair.
This film shows pressures and pitfalls that many young people experience to this day. When we hit a new level and come of age in some way, there are new expectations brought on and things we are expected to have knowledge of. Ben is worried about where his life is heading and Mrs. Robinson expects Ben to be more knowledgeable about sex. When an idle summer is thrown in, Ben grows complacent, bored and seeks out the one thing he knows he can attain at the moment: sex with Mrs. Robinson.
There are countless things I love about The Graduate. The camera work and editing is wonderfully inventive. The party scene stays close to Ben’s face, giving us that feeling that he can’t get away. There’s the scuba gear scene that even goes underwater. And during Mrs. Robinson’s first attempt at seducing Ben, there’s quick flashes of nudity edited in, bringing us into what Ben sees, in a sort of nightmarish way. The soundtrack is one of the best ever, featuring unforgettable songs that define the era by Simon and Garfunkle, including my favorite, the obviously titled song, Mrs. Robinson. Unless there was some technical reason that Mrs. Robinson could not be nominated for best original song, this is one unforgivable blunder by the Academy.
The Graduate is a wonderful, inventive, funny and honest film about coming of age and the complications of physical relationships that can still be admired for generations to come. This is one of those films that everyone should see at some point. And everyone gets a kick out of the nervous word play in the hotel lobby.
“Are you here for an affair, sir?”