The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★★

My Top 100 Favorite Films - #1

More than a year and a half on Letterboxd, and now with my 200th review. This shouldn't be something to celebrate, as others might have written an amount of reviews that dwarfs mine in that same time span, but I just can't resist honoring my own ego. Maybe I just like being an asshole ;)

Is The Graduate the most technically impressive film ever made? Is it the film with the deepest subject matter ever put on the silver screen? Is it without its flaws? To those questions, my answer would be of a very ambivalent character, but to me, it is the best film I have ever seen, and my perception of it might not ever change. I'm not a film student, so I'm not going to talk about how this film is the "objectively" best film ever made (people who go by a reasoning that there is one such film should go fuck themselves for all I care). The reason for that lies mostly in its execution.

But before I move on to that, some nitpicks. "Sound of Silence" and "Scarborough Fair" are both overplayed in this film; both Dustin Hoffmann and Katharine Ross look older than their roles, which makes the affair between Ben and Mrs. Robinson unintentionally hilarious; finally, the acting can be rather over-the-top from the supporting cast, and the plot could sound similar to a bad porn flick on a surface level. But I can overlook all that, because of how it presents its characters and themes in ways that never feel preachy or pretentious.

The film begins with Benjamin Braddock, who has recently earned his bachelor's degree in an unspecified major at the age of 21 from Williams College. He returns home to California from Massachusetts in order to celebrate his degree. The opening is a class act in masterful foreshadowing. Not only do the opening credits roll with Dustin Hoffmann's Braddock staring forwardly with a hint of doubt, while the omnipresent "Sound of Silence" plays in the background, but we also see a sign that says "Do They Match?" and doors that say "use other door". Not only is Benjamin Braddock's insecurity about his own future established without him uttering a single word, the introduction also establishes what's to come for our young protagonist. Kudos to Mike Nichols and cinematographer Robert Surtees for a fantastic introduction to this masterpiece. Another example of a subtle use of visual storytelling is when Elaine finds out the truth about Benjamin. No word is said about Ben and Mrs. Robinson's affair, it is just the camera shifting its focus from Elaine to her mother. Cinematic resourcefulness at its best.

Let's not forget the writing, though, in the midst of praising the visuals. While I haven't read the novella by Charles Webb which this film is based on, I can say it was a great choice to have all the adult characters named solely by their surnames and the young adults being the only characters with given names. It shows not only the disconnect between the generations portrayed within the film, but it also establishes that it is only in our youth that we can be seen as individuals rather than professionals. A great throwaway line is the older man who grabs Ben by the shoulder solely to tell him the word "plastics", and then just leaves. I still don't know if I should count that as a brilliant comedic moment or social satire. I'm just going to credit it as both.

Moving on from setting to characters, this film does not shy away from portraying its characters as unlikeable. Sure, Benjamin Braddock is a guy in an existential crisis, but that doesn't prevent him from being seduced by the allure of being a homewrecker, and then dating the daughter of the woman he has had an affair with, to then reach the conclusion that the daughter is the love of his life, a love he relentlessly pursuits. But none of the other characters are that much better. Ben's parents parade their son around as a circus attraction, the Robinsons push Elaine into a life she might not even want, with Mrs. Robinson being the worst in that she is fully aware of the illusory nature of her marriage, which prompts her to grab to the nearest young successful prospect in order to relive her youth. Elaine might be the only who comes off as pure, but even then, she broke her fiancée's heart at the altar to be with a man she's not even that certain about loving.

Which moves me towards the ending. This is the most gut-wrenching shot in this film. Throughout, it might have had a somewhat comedic tone, with a dramatic undercurrent created by the means of Simon and Garfunkel, but it is the ending to me that solidifies my love for this film. Ben and Elaine flee from the wedding Elaine is uncertain about, to enter a bus, but it's no happy ending. They both stare blankly into the unknown, with the same uncertainty that initially prompted them to escape.

This scene captures all of the film within one singular moment, and it also captures the reason of why it is I feel nothing but pure bliss while I watch this. The existential crisis leads to some situations that are downright comedic, hence why I don't mind the actual ages of the actors involved, but in the end, the uncertainty we so desire to escape from in life will always haunt us, for better or worse. No matter where we are in life, and how good we might perceive our own situation as being, there will always be a degree of uncertainty lingering in regards to our life choices. Heck, I admit I am only writing this review as a means to tackle my own uncertainty about reaching the end of my academic life, with my MA-thesis looming over me. But this film reminds me that I should still try to have some fun, but also to still remind myself that I'm never going to escape my personal and professional insecurities. It acknowledges the dark, but also the inadvertently comedic, nature of the coming-of-age genre, which makes it an incredible film in my eyes.

In conclusion, The Graduate remains my number one favorite film of all time. It might not be the most impressive on a surface level, but what matters in the end is what I get out of experiencing it. Here's to 200 reviews, and hopefully, for even more, as I try to escape the grasp of becoming engulfed in being a full-time professional in something or another.

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