What are you going to do with your future?
This is a question that can make any university student quiver with anxiety. In The Graduate (1967), Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is faced with this inquiry at his graduation party. As he secludes himself in his bedroom, worrying about his lack of future plans, he meets the mysterious Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner. Mrs. Robinson seduces Benjamin into having an affair, and he lets it happen as a result of his impulsive state.
Trouble arises when Benjamin’s oblivious parents arrange for him a date with Elaine (Katharine Ross), Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, and he develops feelings for her. This crossroad causes him to continue his rash decision-making throughout the film as he searches for a sense of purpose.
As a recent university graduate, the theme of finding one’s identity is evident in Benjamin’s life. However, Mrs. Robinson also struggles with her identity. It’s difficult not to feel sympathy towards an unhappily-married, alcohol-dependent housewife who pursues an affair to find herself. This act raises an important issue of the time. The burgeoning 1960s can be considered a turning point, wherein housewives questioned their role in society and searched for their independence. It’s fascinating to witness Mrs. Robinson’s search for liberation alongside Benjamin’s journey through the unknown.
Although the film’s premise may seem slightly introspective and dramatic, its comedic presence is wholly felt and welcomed. You cannot help but laugh at Benjamin’s bumbling first interaction with Mrs. Robinson in his bedroom, or his nervous attempt to order a hotel room to continue the affair (he blabbers to the concierge about how his only piece of luggage is a toothbrush). Even when Benjamin is on his first date with Elaine, his reckless driving and skittish behaviour feels like something out of a dark comedy show.
The Graduate has been, and will forever be, affiliated with the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. The ominous opening riff of “The Sound of Silence” repeats throughout the film, reducing the tone of the film to a more contemplative nature. Meanwhile, the upbeat “Mrs. Robinson” shifts the tone completely.
The cultural significance of The Graduate is what makes it so iconic. The notion of a “Mrs. Robinson” has transcended everyday language. Her character is now synonymous with an older woman who has similar intentions as Bancroft’s role. Without spoiling anything, the closing scene is also extremely well-known; even if you have never watched The Graduate, it may seem familiar because it is so entrenched in film history.
The Graduate is an ageless classic that depicts the experience of a young adult trying to find his place in the world. This sentiment can feel familiar to any graduate (give or take the affair), no matter the decade.