March 22nd, 2004


More on "The Graduate"

The Graduate sticks in my mind still, so some observations:

The Benjamin character is a bit blank. He says he's "worried about his future", but never says why. It seems weird that a character so inexpressive ended up being somehow emblematic of 60's alienation, since he never does anything but exhibit an appetite for beer, sex, and sunbathing. Oh, and a creepy romantic obsession with the daughter of the older woman he's fucking. That blankness really seems like it worked in the movies favor in the 60s, since people seeing the movie can pour their own anxieties, fears, and frustrations into him. I love the little peeps Hoffman makes in his throat to indicate distress.

The context of the times is important in understanding the script's intention, though. The cultural changes of the 60's -- particularly the embrace of hedonism -- were driven by a very real feeling that nuclear missiles could come over the horizon at any time. When Norman Fell asks Hoffman if he's one of those "outside agitators" when he takes a room in Berkeley, it's a reference to the Berkeley Free Speach demonstrations of 1965, which loomed as a huge controversy at the time. Both of those issues seem pretty archaic and quaint at this remove.

The whole screenplay is cool in the way it encodes and alludes to 60's issues without ever pushing them explicitly. The whole "one word: plastics" thing was huge at the time, when plastic consumer products were emblematic of everything that young people were rebelling against. Just having Katherine Ross' Elaine at school at Berkeley meant something big, yet the campus life the movie actually shows has no reference to the turmoil happening at the time. Nearly everything in the movie can be construed as symbolic -- Ben's Alfa running out of gas on the way to the wedding; his wielding a cross as a weapon, and using it to lock the wedding party in the church, even Benjamin and Elaine sitting in the back of the bus after they escape.

I also like the casting of the secondary characters a lot. Williams Daniels as Benjamin's father, who later went on to be a star of "St. Elsewhere" and (eek!) "Boy Meets World" on television. He was even the voice of the car in "Knight Rider!" Norman Fell as the suspicious landlord, a role he reprised on "Three's Company", and Buck Henry (one of the screenwriters) as the hotel desk clerk. There's even a short scene where Benjamin is crashing a wedding reception, and the women he talks to at the door are Aunt Agatha (Marion Lorne) and Esmerelda (Alice Ghostly) from "Bewitched."