'The Graduate' (1967)

- that movie, the one with a direction to it -

Just what it should have been at the time it was made:    Essentially benevolent to everyone, even the weak / selfish / foolish, unflinchingly showing everyone at their least bright, charming, and bound to turn out just right.   And it has Dustin Hoffman's superb ability to act completely blotto drunkenness, & four stages piling up one by one (-needy vacuity, dull contentedness, matured determination, and final desperation),  Anne Bancroft quietly portraying the unspoken reality of the infamous Mrs. Robinson, emblem of dearth within abundance.  And it has a script brilliant in its refusal to be normally unreal, as well as Paul Simon ... and a set of lesser actors who hit the right note in their lesser roles.

Benjamin (the Dustin Hoffman character) has "a good education" to begin with. Robert A. Heinlein criticised American education in 1958 in words to the effect that, "it might be preparation for life - it certainly wasn't preparation for CalTech." Alas, in this case, the preparation for CalTech seems to have been better than the preparation for life. Benjamin becomes an enemy to married life and good common contentedness, commits adultery, burglary, faked identity, petty stalking, speeding & other bad driving, public disturbances, and finally an utterly outrageous assault and inveigling/abduction.

Quite a criminal. And why? Ostensibly for the least admirable of reasons: desire for a woman. But Benjamin is also the nicest of criminals: His "stalking" would be puppyish if it weren't for its being obviously A) ardently unashamed & B) harmless. [Contrary to the usual run of stalker, who is an unashamedly self-centered creep.] His burglary and adultery are palliated by circumstances, driving sloppily is something we all do now and then, the man he assaults laid violent hands on him first (so it is, to some extent at least, in self-defense), and his 'inveigling and abduction' and faking identity are oh-so-romantic and heroic.... in a way. "Maybe"....

....as Miss Robinson's most frequent turn of speech goes. What an admirable girl! and she looks like-her-mother-but-younger, too. Such a perfect picture of a college girl, obviously popular with many, but.... um, isn't this unreally All-American-perfect? People joke about her betrothed in ribald terms, but no one ever is rude or too familiar or coarse behind her back or to her face. A pity she doesn't weigh in as heavily as Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin, even in her imperfections. She's just kind of too lightweight to reject anyone finally (-you can't please everyone.)

Please, may I just point out: That famous, portentuously delivered, one word, "plastics" .... is of NO significance, in the story, at all. This is a comedy for Pete's sake! (and a rather funny one at all times, too.) All that word amounts to, is another piece of pompously heavy-handed seriousness. .... plus, like the diving scene, a piece of sheer maladroitness.

You know what the sweetest thing in the whole movie is? the way the parents react when their son declares that he will marry Miss Robinson. Sure, they treat their son like a favorite toy, often... but this time, they obviously care. And approve. And rightly so.

America had weathered the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Hitler's World War.... all that was past by the mid-1960s, barring a possible future of deadly (fallout) dust and (nuclear) world war, with a disastrous decline in the standard of living (the reality of an economic depression.) No, that was done with, America was America the Wealthy.... but the young, born into it, couldn't take just being "not poor" as their primary object and satisfaction in life. Why should they want to just pursue "not poor", when they had it already?

- Does America lose something whenever there's a major failure and a recovery from it? Did the Great Depression make it seem ideal to just be not-poor? Did the late 1960s & 1970s, followed by the Reagan era, make us care for nothing so much as being "not downbeat" and "not unconventional"? Will September 11 2001 leave nothing but being "not terrorist-susceptible" on the American mind? --- I don't know, I'm just asking.

There's one thing wrong with Paul Simon's classic, unforgettable, famous music as used here: there's no comedy in it. This is a comedy in many ways, but Simon's songs are dark and utterly serious. Too much so for anything but a tragedy.

"Silence like a cancer..." Somehow the script writers (Buck Henry and Calder Willingham) evoke deep things out of inconsequential chatter and verbal nothing-much . . . . . . . . Why can nobody say anything aloud about the glories and needs of life? Are they making a religion of a show of contentedness?!

Where are the poets?       There ought to be poetry.

When Miss Robinson, bless her, tells Benjamin that he needs to have some direction in his life ... while watching I was privileged to mutter to myself, "I have a direction in my life .... upward."    That's what my website title (UpSky) means:    the upward direction.

I hope I've brought the reader to a higher appreciation of 'The Graduate'.

[ Review (c) R. Hess, December 2, 2002. ]

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- Page created December 20, 2002, (using ReviewZoom version 1.18) by Russell Hess, Webmaster (hess1@bigfoot.com) of 'UpSky2' & 'UpSky'.

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