The Graduate: Cinematography and Sexuality

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Filmmakers use movies as a platform to communicate different ideas, philosophies, and themes to an audience artistically. The relevance of a movie depends not only on the content but also the incorporation of other elements such as cinematography to enhance camerawork towards bringing the visions and images of the story alive on screen. In “The Graduate” the filmmakers used cinematography to influence the way people view a movie.

The concept of sexuality appears throughout the movie in an unconventional manner since the filmmakers reversed sexual thematic and gender roles as compared to classic Hollywood motion pictures presentations. Sexuality encompasses different elements, and the most common ones include sexual orientation, feelings, and activities (Daniluk 6). It demonstrates a complex interaction of physical, biological, and social influences that women use to make sense of who they are as individuals (Daniluk 6). The filmmakers represented Mrs. Robinson’s sexuality in diverse ways. For example, the filmmakers demonstrated Mrs. Robinson as a middle-aged woman attracted to a younger man twice her age with the intention of having fun as opposed to falling in love (Nichols). Such a theme appears when Mrs. Robinson seduces Benjamin Braddock throughout the movie, but Benjamin fails to reciprocate that love as he develops feelings for Elaine. Equally, Mrs. Robinson’s character represents a conniving, manipulative, cold, and heartless being, pursuing a younger and naïve man, which was perceived as a taboo the 1960’s (Nichols). Finally, the filmmakers epitomized Mrs. Robinsons as a middle-aged woman with a strong female sexual desire, which remained unexplored in the American film. Conventional American movies show men chasing after women and act in conniving ways, which was perceived normal in the late 1960s. Thereby, introducing Mrs. Robinson as a strong female with a lustful sexual desire broke the classical Hollywood conventions.

In the film, Mrs Robinson makes several attempts throughout the movie to seduce the younger man. For instance, the older woman takes an active role to allure Benjamin in the scene when she demanded the younger man to bring her purse in Elaine’s bedroom. When Benjamin enters the room, Mrs Robinson follows suit where she intentionally closes the door behind her to trap both of them inside. In that scene, Mrs Robinson appears half-naked based on the reaction of the younger man and the reflection on the mirror in that room.

The filmmakers used the established shot to present the scene where the older woman plays an active role in seducing Benjamin. Established shots refer to a technique in cinematography that introduces a viewer to the location of the scene and sets the tones for actions and activities to follow (New York Film Academy par. 4). In such a case, the establishing shot is set in the bedroom, and most viewers will expect the characters to engage sexually if either person seduces the other. Even though Mrs. Robinson’s intention was to have sex with Benjamin, she never forced him to adhere to her demands. Consequently, filmmakers should create clear established shots by ensuring that a viewer has a glimpse of the surrounding and specific elements such as beds, tables, or kitchenware to enable the viewer to identify the location of the scene (New York Film Academy par. 4). Eventually, such specifications facilitates an audience’s anticipation to know what will happen next in that scene.

The filmmakers also used close-up shots (CU) to present the selected scene where the older woman attempts to allure Benjamin into having a sexual affair with her. CU shots focus on actors faces while eliminating at least most if not all surrounding elements of that scene (New York Film Academy par. 5). The CU shots aim at capturing an actor’s facial expressions and variations to match the narrative or the scene’s themes. In the scene, the filmmakers used CU shots and focused on Benjamin’s facial expressions and reactions towards the older woman’s nudity. Benjamin felt uneasy and surprised by Mrs Robinson’s actions considering that she was a friend to the younger man’s family. Overall, the filmmaker achieved this goal by placing the camera on shoulder height, which enhanced the motion pictures credibility for that particular scene. 

The filmmakers used CU shots to avoid showing Mrs Robinson's nudity. The cameraperson focused the camera on the upper-body part of the older woman precisely the neck and head section to indicate a possibility of Mrs Robinson nudity in the lower section of her body. As stated earlier, Benjamin’s reactions may support this reasoning, which contributed to the use of CU shots to avoid showing the character's nudity, since it was unconventional in Hollywood film during the late 1960s. Contrarily, the filmmakers also included medium wider shots in that scene while capturing including both characters roles in the scene as they discuss they talk about the situation in that room. The filmmakers also inserted snapshots of Mrs Robinson’s nudity on her chest and bellybutton area to reveal that she was nude in that scene. Consequently, the images shot using the more extensive range met the needs and expectations of that scene.

The discussed elements of cinematography influenced my understanding of the dynamics of the characters in the scene. For example, I learned that the filmmaker wanted to explore an eccentric theme of sexuality without making the sexual scenes explicit to the viewer. Even though the scene is an act, the filmmaker considered the reputation of the actor and ensured to conceal anything that could expose her nudity to the audience. Consequently, such an expression reveals that the movie intended to explore the reversed role in sexuality without breaking from the Hollywood filmmaking tradition but still capture audiences’ attention.

Equally, the filmmakers wanted to show another side of men’s sexuality that was uncommon in the 1960s. Society believed and perceived men as strong, dominant, and controlling beings in every aspect of life whereas women were represented as weak and submissive. The cinematography elements demonstrated a reverse role than what people expected by exposing Benjamin as a nervous and passive man controlled by a woman.

The movie was entertaining, informational, and educative. The use of different cinematography elements helped shape the dynamic relationship between the younger man and Mrs Robinsons as they explored the concept of sexuality through acting. Filmmakers should understand when, how, and why to incorporate different camera shots while producing specific scenes. CU shots should focus on characters and eliminate external elements while medium and wider shots should capture the characters and their location. Overall, the different shots supported the creation of the scene to match the theme being explored and meet viewers’ expectations while protecting actors’ reputation as modest individuals despite participating in nude-related scenes.

Works Cited

Daniluk, C. Judith. Women's Sexuality Across the Life Span: Challenging Myths, Creating

            Meanings. Guilford Press, 2003.

New York Film Academy. Acting Tips: 12 Camera Shots Every Actor should know, 2015, Accessed December 19, 2018.

Nichols, Mike, director. The Graduate. Embassy Pictures Corporation, 1967.

September 25, 2023

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