The Graduate: An In-Depth Analysis of a Coming-of-Age Classic

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The Graduate, directed by Mike Nicholas is a famous comedy film addressing the story of a Young man named Benjamin Braddock who graduates from an Eastern college and returns home in Los Angeles for the summer holidays loaded with credentials of glory and confusion on what step to take next.  He finds himself isolated and pointless in the social and sexual general public of the 1960s and wondering how rapidly the values of society have faded away. The theme of the film is of a virtuous and demented youth who is mistreated and harassed sexually, seduced (literally and figuratively) and humiliated by the older generation (Griffiths. et al ,NP). Nevertheless, the film explores the life of a woman who tries to bring out that being “grown up” does not necessarily mean being mature and gaining a deep understanding of the world. Benjamin Braddock finds himself trapped in a” plastic” world and surrounded by misery.

 The film begins with a close-up, disembodied image of Benjamin Braddock face .When the camera pulls back, it shows that Benjamin is bordering a plane with passengers of different ages. Benjamin Braddock the protagonist, is initially alighting from the plane when he comes back home from college. He is a good looking man and portrays the perfect definition of a young man who is aware of his purpose in life (Belton,NP). Mike Nicholas, the director decides to focus much on Benjamin for the opening title sequence in order to give the viewers detailed information on the character than they normally would have known if the movie was brief. On doing this the audience understands that Benjamin is not a happy man and he is experiencing the motions in life. The idea of Benjamin not being a happy man and probably is going through a tough situation in life is symbolized by his sidewalk in the airport. Benjamin steps on the sidewalk and allows it to control his movement instead of just moving and going a different path or speed.

 The use of “The sound of silence” in the film is very indicative in its self, as the song addresses about how people speak out their mind properly “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening” This idea is appropriately expressed by the paradoxical title. The film progress as the story continues to explain the reason why Benjamin does not establish his own path in life. Benjamin is more concerned about his negligence; neither his parents nor any of his elders and the people in authority ever pays attention to him. Benjamin is sitting in the dim light alone in his bedroom (the darkness signifies Benjamin’s loss of innocence that he will experience and the ultimate liberation by his friend) .The protagonist is not quite certain what to do, despite the fact that his family, friends and everyone surrounding him now considers him to be an adult. Nicholas brings this point out clearly to the audience when Benjamin puts on a scuba gear. No sound is heard by the audience at this particular time except the sound of the emptiness interrupted by monotonous breathing. This incident represents how Benjamin does not have internal thinking and is only concerned with moving on. Benjamin’s father is not listening to him when he discusses the fears about his future; this makes him join the guest down stairs. All the guest are his parents’ mature friends and indeed Benjamin is isolated and has no match in as much as the party was organized to celebrate his victory in school. The whole congregation is gathered for his graduation celebration but it turns out to be of his parents own interest and not necessarily for his interest.

As the Audience explores Benjamin struggles to understand adulthood, a new character Mrs Robinson, whose maturity is not on board as everyone would assume emerges.  As Benjamin walked back into his room, Mrs Robinson suddenly follows him into the room; Mrs Robinson pretends she is looking for the washrooms. She insists that Benjamin drives her home even after Benjamin hands over his car keys to her. Significantly Mrs Robinson throws the car keys into the fish tank instead of giving them to Benjamin. The keys which are purposely for opening the door or driving cars, the keys symbolises Benjamin’s freedom and trap. In spite of Mrs Robinson’s sexual intentions, it ultimately and ironically turns up that this action leads Benjamin to his freedom. Mrs Robinsons appears early on in the film seeming to be well put together and larger than life, as most adults pretend to their children. This idea is evident in the image that is used in the promotional posters for the film. Mrs Robinson appears on the promotional poster with her legs covered by a nylon stocking, she takes up a greater frame of the film while Benjamin is in the smaller background. The question of Mrs Robinson's understanding of adulthood emerges when Benjamin tells about her affair with Mrs Robinson to Elaine his girlfriend and Mrs Robinson’s daughter.  On the occurrence of this Mrs Robinson is portrayed differently than she was earlier until this point of the film. Instead of taking a greater portion of the frame of the film and looking aggressive she now appears small and immoral. This changes how the audience had perceived her earlier and begin to question if she was really as secured with herself as she had acted

 Benjamin and Mrs Robinson are both framed to have the same struggle. They both bring out the theme of discovering the real meaning of transition to adulthood. Yet, each of them has their own views on this. Benjamin is not really aware of his place in the world, although most would not see this because of his awards and accolades that he does.  This is because he fears negative consequences and therefore he restricts himself and limits his options.  Comparing both characters Mrs Robinson has not accomplished anything; she only lives unfulfilling life as a housewife. She is not like Benjamin who has a lot of limits; she does not limit or eliminate any of her choices and lives carefree. This, in turn, leads her to live Benjamin worst nightmare by having to encounter negative outcomes, losing her lavish lifestyle included. Ironically, in as much as she lives her life opposite that of Benjamin’s, her actions ultimately drives her in the same world as Benjamin, after she is disowned by her husband Mr Robinson and her daughter Elaine.

At latter scene of the film, Benjamin tries to adopt a selfish carefree lifestyle as Mrs Robinson when he convinces Elaine to flee with him in the middle of her wedding. Indeed though Elaine remains a virgin throughout the film, she loses her innocence too by going against her parent's expectations when she accepts to walk away on her wedding and run away with Benjamin immediately after saying her wedding vows.    The step taken by the two to run away at the middle of their wedding makes the audience caught up in the moment and concludes that Benjamin has finally figured it out since he has secured his soul mate by commanding his own life. Also as the couples settle on their seats on the bus out of town, the cameras focus on the two longer than the usual time, enabling the audience to have a proper assessment on the characters (similar to the opening). At this moment, Benjamin and Elaine reflect back on their past and realizes how much they have ruined their lives in the last few moments, and how that has contributed to their current situation. At the end of the film, the story has proved to the audience that every path you choose in life will definitely lead you to a situation where you have to struggle to place yourself where you belong. This suggests the human beings should never take advantage of “coming of age” in their lives, because the moment human beings achieve their goals, they realize that is not what they wanted anyway

With close look into the movie I can conclude that the principal reason why Benjamin could  not have the urge to become an adult was because his surrounding had not offered him viable ideal of adulthood, He had to be the driver of himself and imagine what a credible grown-up life might look like, which he failed to figure out . It is unlikely that persons of Benjamin’s background would put more efforts to conceive and test out new lifestyles but the efforts end to be exclusively in vain.  Yet efforts of such kind cannot directly reach the current young generation who are removed from the heartland of changing social consciousness. These people are just like Benjamin in the movie they struggle with transition, they are starved by the culture and isolated they face a crisis of imagination. They lack the guidance of their guardians and the society at large. They can only learn about their peers experience through the media.

In conclusion, the movie ‘’ The Graduate’’ have incredibly dynamic characters who use different methods to find out where they belong. Mike Nicholas, the director of the film is able to bring out the emotions and moods of these characters by using an exceptional style of visual composition and sound editing that gave a difference in course of the film. A combination of these elements with extraordinary dynamic characters cannot only result in the pinnacle of coming of age but can also provide a clear illustration of how a film can be used to explore the theme.

Work Cited

Belton, John. American cinema/American culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.

Griffiths, Alison. Wondrous difference: Cinema, anthropology, and turn-of-the-century visual culture. Columbia University Press, 2002.

September 25, 2023




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