Anders Furze is currently studying honours in film studies at Monash University. The Graduate is probably his third favourite film, though on some days it jumps to number one. He tumbles at Film247
An aeroplane. A close-up of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman). His face is so extremely expressionless it verges on the melancholic. Twenty-five seconds later we cut to an airport travelator. Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sounds of Silence’ starts to play (the film’s soundtrack, made up entirely of their songs, is amazing). Benjamin stands, similarly expressionless, we track with him. This is virtually the perfect cinematic encapsulation of what life at our age is like. Benjamin has absolutely no clue about anything in his future, yet he can’t just stop everything and work it all out. Time is relentlessly dragging him forward, and, as the film goes on to show, so too are the older generation: his parents, their friends, the infamous Mrs Robinson. Having just graduated from college, the previous structure that governed Benjamin’s life has instantaneously disintegrated. But he can’t just stop and think about things for a while. Even though Benjamin’s physically standing still, he’s still being dragged forward through time.
A bus. Benjamin and Elaine (Katharine Ross), the girl he’s just stolen (consensually) from her shotgun wedding, jump aboard. They are by far the youngest people there. He smiles, laughs, for what feels like the first time in the entire movie. The film ends with an excruciatingly long hold on both Benjamin and Elaine seated, their faces moving from pure elation at their ultimate act of rebellion to a very quick recognition of what they have, in actuality, done. ‘The Sounds of Silence’ comes back on to mark the transition. Elaine looks at Ben in what can only be described as muted terror. Before we see any more we cut to behind the bus, it drives off into the distance. End credits.
The Graduate frames its view of twenty-something year old life in terms of the older generation’s complete dominance over it. It is easy to see the metaphors that demonstrate this: at one point Benjamin’s dad literally shoves him into the family pool, keeping him submerged at his own birthday party. The man who runs the hostel Benjamin stays in at Berkeley says he “don’t want no agitators”, as if politically engaged youth pose a direct threat to his position of power. And the ultimate manifestation of this view, of course, is the affair between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson: she virtually forces herself on him, he seems to keep the fling going not out of any great feeling towards her but because it’s a distraction from the constant “what are you going to do with your life?” questioning of his parents and their friends.
Yet when Elaine and Benjamin do break free, do escape their parents and their questions and their highly codified society of “proper” behaviour (you thought the world of Jane Austen was socially restrictive? Try living in the middle class America of The Graduate) the joy lasts all of thirty seconds. As Jack Nicholson’s character in Easy Rider, another great film of the period, says: “(People) talk to you, and talk to you, about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em”. In this case, the people talking and seeing are also doing. Perhaps the great lesson of The Graduate then is this: we live our lives as young people under the illusion we are free to do whatever we want, an illusion sustained by the very same people who restrict it. So when true freedom is actually experienced, it’s scary and confusing and stomach churning. Yet we must continuously strive for the stomach churning, or we risk dooming ourselves to the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. To the sounds of silence.