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The Graduate (1967) | Review

by Dimitra Karagiannopoulou

Based on Charles Webb's same-titled novel, Mike Nichols's film The Graduate aired in cinemas in 1967, becoming the milestone of a new cinematic genre: that of the romantic comedy in which the protagonist's goal is not to fall in love or find the other half of his life, but to enter something even more challenging, the quest to find himself.

The protagonist is 20-year-old Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate whom we meet a week before his 21st birthday, at a time of transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Benjamin doesn’t seem ready to join the world of responsibility, as he constantly wonders about his future and what he would like to do for the rest of his life. All he is sure of is that he wants to be different from his upper middle-class family.

He longs to follow his own path and not his father’s professional footsteps, as he is keen to be himself and not just a copy of his parents. At the end of his birthday party, while the uncertainty that continues to choke him grows, he begins a sexual relationship with the wife of his father's business partner, Mrs Robinson, in what seems a rash attempt to lengthen his adolescence. This relationship, which is mostly carnal, continues for months, until Mrs Robinson demands of Ben a very peculiar promise: to stay away from her daughter Elaine. That promise is broken soon, as Ben's parents force him to go on a date with Elaine. While he initially opposes the idea and tries to create a bad impression on Elaine, he eventually falls in love with her as he finds in her that he has been desperately looking for so long: someone who really wants to hear what he has to say. Mrs Robinson is outraged by this development and her reaction has drastic consequences for everyone.

photo courtesy of Mathilde Communal

Alongside the excellent directing of Mike Nichols, who was already known for his wonderful adaptation of Edward Albee's landmark drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), equally memorable are the interpretations of the previously completely unknown key actors in the film. Except for Anne Bancroft, who plays the seductive Mrs. Robinson in a masterful way, for both Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross (Elaine Robinson), this was the first film appearance – a great debut. Hoffman admirably plays the troubled young man desperate to find both himself and a cause, while simultaneously Ross's fragile performance as the perfect girl who eventually rebels for the sake of love is simply remarkable. The film, however, would be completely different without the wonderful music of Simon and Garfunkel. The alternation of melancholy and the joyful mood of their melodies enhances the emotional tension and takes off the cinematic experience.

The Graduate is a truly wonderful coming-of-age film which may seem to belong to another era, but is timeless. Because who has not wondered what he will do in the future or has not hummed Hello darkness my old friend?


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