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3.Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me,” says Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman). The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols in 1967 is an influential satire/comedy film about a recent East Coast college graduated who finds himself alienated and aimless in the changing, social and sexual general public of the 1960s, and questioning the values of society. The theme of the film is of an innocent and confused youth who is exploited, mis-directed, seduced (literally and figuratively) and betrayed by a corrupt, self-indulgent, and discredited older generation (that finds stability in “plastics”) that I found to be quite clear and understanding, while also capturing the real spirit of the times and allows America’s youth to perceive onscreen an image of themselves which they can both identify with and emulate. The Graduate is a significant film even today due to its use of abstract camera angles, telephoto lenses, excellent cinematography, and great acting. Few visual effects were used, however, matting and numerous point of view shots were used. These characteristics and the fabulous use of mis-en-scene, great writing and the era of the film all made The Graduate what it is today, magnificent.
Benjamin Braddock is at a crossroads in his life. He has just graduated college which means he has reached adulthood and must decide what to do with his life. The problem is Benjamin is too immature to handle it. He is passive and watches the world around him move on. Ben prefers to lie around in his parent’s pool rather than consider graduate school or finding good quality job. He is beginning to realize that the path his parents have chosen for him isn’t the one he wishes to follow. He is lost young man in search of high dreams, self discovery, and is frightened by the thought of becoming a man.
The film opens up with a close-up, disembodied image of Benjamin Braddock’s face (Dustin Hoffman) a twenty year old recent East Coast college graduate. He appears alone and isolated – he is – but when the camera pulls back, it reveals that he is on a plane filled with other passengers of all different ages. He is returning home to Los Angeles from college in the East. He appears slightly shy and uninviting; his face is blank, expressionless, lethargic, and almost zombie-like looking. The beginning and end of the film are very similar with each other – the young couple, is surrounded by a busload of passengers, but still remain isolated and unemotional. Benjamin stands mute to himself on the automated, moving walkway at the busy LAX airport the camera is positioned to reveal Ben’s left profile while the frame height is a medium close shot allowing Ben’s image to dilute in the viewers mind. In this profile shot, the character is positioned to the right third of the frame to allow sufficient space in front of Ben. This is done in order to not cluster the characters line of sight as seen by the viewer. Dustin Hoffman’s character appears to be lost, confused, and in the midst of discovering his life. The soundtrack also plays an important role in this interpretation. The song “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkle establishes a feeling of sadness; it’s a non digital sound that expresses a melancholy reaction, it also reinforces the theme of his emptiness and alienation from his surroundings. As Benjamin is passively being transported across the airport to his luggage, the camera switches to Ben’s blue suitcase to reveal another instance of how passive the character appears to be. There is a prop, specifically a sign displayed in the scene that is viewed as the camera pans left to right. The sign asks “Do they match?” Implying does Ben and his suitcase match, this is a deliberate prop that initiates the viewers mind to contemplate how Ben and the suitcase are both passive. This motif of being passive is expressing the idea that Benjamin is a reactive young man who does what he is told. He is not brave, bold, or proactive; he is a puppet of his environment. Benjamin is in the stage of his life where he is searching for his future, and beginning to mature into a man.
As the film develops the underlying theme begins to change as Dustin Hoffman’s characters metamorphoses into a proactive character. Although, Bens passiveness is still quite present in the next scene at his parents Southern California home. From the opening scenes you can see how tight Ben’s parents hold is on him by the claustrophobic camera shots at his graduation party. Most of the scene is filmed with hand held shots giving the feeling of uneasiness. By not using a stedicam the viewer can relate with Benjamin’s nervousness, and desire to escape the chaos. The lighting is very low key which adds to the diluted image of Ben’s feelings. Everyone at the party is a friend of Ben’s parents who apparently makes them a friend of his, but he barely knows them past their last name and occupation. Ben is bombarded by guests, yet, shows no irritation, instead acts polite and passive. As the plot continues, Ben is seen to evolve into a more proactive character after entering the relationship with Mrs. Robinson.
One scene in particular that represents the underlying theme of becoming of age, and becoming proactive, is the first seduction scene between Ben and Mrs. Robinson. The mis-en-scene plays a key role in the theme of this scene at the Robinsons. The mis-en-scene of the scene is very complex and thought out by the director. The setting is very upscale, rich, and elegant. Ben is wearing a blue suit with a yellow and blue striped tie. The colors blue and yellow are common motifs in the film, yellow representing youth and blue representing maturity. Ben’s suit represents a crossroad of the two. The high contrast lighting is also a factor that represents Ben’s inner conflict of not wanting to become a man. The lighting is used as a means of shadowing Ben’s face to only partially reveal his emotions. The abstract shadowing of the character’s face shows confusion, for there is still an unknown factor concealed behind Ben’s emotions. The other character present in the two shot is Mrs. Robinson; she is an elegant, sophisticated women searching for her own lost youth. Her dominance is very noticeable through her costumes. Her dresses were very erotic, for throughout the movie Mrs. Robinson is seen in an array of dresses all resembling some sort of animal skin. These costumes emphasize the idea that Mrs. Robinson is predator stalking her prey. The background in the bar at the Robinsons is a luscious botanical garden; this garden seems to represent a jungle for the predator and the prey. The power of the characters is also present in the note that Mrs. Robinson’s eyesight is looking down at Ben. This displays a sense of power, dominance over Ben expressing Mrs. Robinson’s confidence and control. These eye level shots are crucial in the analysis of which character is dominant. The scene is filmed in wide angle arrangement, with a deep focus lens in certain situations. One shot that is classic in the scene is the low angle shot of Benjamin through Mrs. Robinson’s legs. The shot presents the seduction occurring from Mrs. Robinsons and her domineering use of teasing the protagonist. The rack focus is also evident in the scene; these transitions from a shallow to deep focus add to the watery image of the characters identities. There’s an abundance of wide focus shots with numerous occurrences of medium close ups that show the characters emotions, while making the viewer seem more intimate. With deep focus lenses being used the scene appears to be more realistic and relatable compared to when it’s unfocused and diluted.
This scene incorporates Ben’s passiveness once more by emphasizing on Ben’s lack of control and will to stand up for himself. Mrs. Robinson states “Drink” as she forces the bourbon onto Ben after he deliberately said no. This scene supports the theme of self discovering; by initiating the underlying theme of Mrs. Robinson’s substantial control over Ben. Without making Ben’s lack of control obvious it wouldn’t be evident that his character would transform into a proactive man. Another scene that supports the theme of self discovery is the scene after Ben takes out Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine. In the beginning of the scene Mrs. Robinson runs through the rain and enters Ben’s car, she then orders him to drive around the block. At this point in time Ben is still a reactive character who has numerous indecisions. He does as he is told and drives until Mrs. Robinsons threatens to reveal their affair to Elaine. This news troubled Ben, for he recently discovered a new found love for Elaine. His love was based on companionship for the first time in his life. Ben was in control with Elaine, this control was another stepping stone into Ben’s eventual maturity. This scene is the midpoint in the act of the movie, for Ben goes from being a reactive character to a proactive character. This is evident as Ben exited the car and sprinted through the rain to Elaine’s side. Water being another common motif present in the film is very important in this scene. Water is a very symbolic element in the film that represents new life, becoming a man, and right of passage. By shooting Ben running through the rain with a telephoto lens it appeared Ben was not moving any closer to his goal. This effect added to the theme of transitioning into a man by emphasizing that he was now proactive. A continuity error that I found present in the scene of Ben running through the rain was that there was sunshine on the grass in the background as it poured down rain. It was evident that the rain was simply generated in this suburban Southern California community.
The lighting in the scene was very natural; there were no shadows or abstract lighting focusing on the characters. This scene is one of the most crucial scenes in the movie, for it represents Ben’s first transition into adulthood. This conflict pertaining to Mrs. Robinson revealing the affair and the numerous other obstacles that appear through out the movie try to prevent Ben, the protagonist from his goals. However, he eventually overcomes these obstacles and finds his identity.
The last scene that really relates to the theme of the movie is the concluding scene. After driving to UC Berkeley, Ben finds Elaine and makes amends for his wrong doing. Although, the amends were made with Elaine, Ben ran into a new problem, Mr. Robinson. This “Darkest Hour” occurred after the news of the affair with Mrs. Robinson had been revealed. Now Mr. Robinson stood between Ben and his goal of winning Elaine’s heart. After a quarrel with Mr. Robinson, Ben heard the news of Elaine’s marriage. This obstacle, including not knowing the location of the wedding, running out of gas, and the church being locked all slowed Ben’s progress.
The scene transitions from Ben’s car running out of gas to Benjamin running to the church; the shot is done using a telephoto lens. This lens is used to portray an image from far away to close. The effect makes the shot appear that Benjamin is not moving. This long shot displayed Benjamin’s final pursuit of his goal; it represents his proactive personality to seek the future. In the scene Benjamin went from wearing blue suits to casual clothing, demonstrating his change of character. Another significant piece of mis-en-scene is Benjamin’s unshaven beard. The beard was a significant part of the theme of the movie. The beard represents age, maturity, manhood, whereas in the early part of the movie Ben was constantly shaving to rid this stage of becoming a man. Benjamin obviously is confused and wants to remain young, a kid without responsibilities and work.
The final scene demonstrates Ben’s will to take action and pursue his goals. The setting, Santa Barbara, was a surreal environment that added to the effect of an upscale warm Southern California community. The crucial shot of the scene was magnificent; it was shot from the floor of the church with a tilted angle camera portraying Ben almost a biblical figure reigning over the families. This scene finalized Ben’s transition into man hood and Elaine’s relationship with her mother. The two characters exited the church in chaos and randomly enter a yellow school bus. The bus represented their exit and proclamation to pursue there goals. This bus is representing their confused perception of the future, for they are still uncertain of their lives. The scene is shot using a deep focus lens; the deep focus creates a perception of real life. The camera is stationed to view a medium close up shot of the Elaine and Ben to show there emotions dwindle. First the two characters were excited with the spontaneous decision, however, Mike Nichols shot the scene so the characters emotions were present after there adrenaline ceased. The characters faces turn into a ghostly, serious expressionistic manner. This shot expresses the idea that they were regretting their decision or they knew they were off to an unknown future. This scene finalized the theme of the story; it now portrayed Benjamin as man who is proactive. He is neither indecisive nor impotent now that he has faced his conflicts and found resolutions.
The Graduate is a cult classic. Not only was it a movie for the generation of baby-boomers in the Sixties, but it still remains a symbol of the teenagers today that are searching for something and those that are “a little unsure about their future”. Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate comes home only to be seduced by his father’s business partner’s wife. He then falls in love with her daughter, Elaine, which in turn leads to a rollercoaster of events which end up leading to the final scene of Benjamin taking Elaine away after getting married to another man. This film is a classic example of coming of age; Benjamin is boy in the beginning, and a man at the end. Without the direction of Mike Nichols, acting by Dustin Hoffman and great cinematography this film would have been forgotten and ill represented.