Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps. This week, a double feature of “How have you not seen this” cinema, 1967’s “The Graduate” and 1997’s “L.A. Confidential”.
I was honestly not expecting to like this film nearly as much as I did. It takes a good story and elevates it dramatically with expert filmmaking in every way. Hell, I could probably write a paragraph and a half just on the sound design!
Ok, first off, the plot: Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb, The Graduate follows recent college graduate (I GET IT NOW!) Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) as he meanders through his immediately post college life, centering around his affair with family friend and pretty-much-sexual-predator Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and his falling for her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). While the plot is fairly simple to explain, it’s the character work that makes the film. Hoffman plays Ben as extremely emotionally detached and isolated, in a way that is relatable while simultaneously keeping the audience at arms reach. Mrs. Robinson herself, while she is the closest thing the film has to a villain, is still just as well-rounded and understandable as any of the others. Together, this excellent cast, plus supporting characters like Mr. Robinson and Ben’s parents, assemble into a film where every character has a distinct role to play. Also, I feel like I should mention that this film is quite funny? Like, It is a dramedy, and the funny parts are really funny, but most of what I’ll be complementing it on are it’s dramatic parts. it is real funny though. I swear.
The film’s greatest strength is in it’s methods of storytelling. By leaving large sections of the film silent, the sound design allows for some truly haunting moments in this quirky dramedy. A few times, like through some of Ben and Elaine’s conversations, the audience is not allowed to hear what the characters are saying, adding to our isolation. The stand out sequence of the film for me, and one that left my jaw on the floor, is a scene in which Ben, at the insistence of his family, exits the house and climbs into the pool in full scuba gear. The sequence works so well because, when we get to see the scene from Ben’s point of view, we only hear what he hears: the sound of his own breathing. Even while others flap their mouths open and closed around him, he is still perfectly isolated from them in his own little bubble.
Speaking of isolation, this movie does its best to alienate the audience, while still keeping them engaged. The famous “Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me,” scene practically weaponizes uncomfortability, but still keeps it comedic enough to keep you watching. Many of the film’s most important moments of dialogue (Ben’s marriage proposal, Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s attempted conversation in bed) are delivered so that we cannot see the faces of the speaking characters. This runs counter to pretty much anything taught about filmmaking, but it works perfectly in this movie, going a long way to foster a sense of detachment in the viewers. This is helped even more by the tight, purposefully stressful camerawork in some of the early scenes. I could keep listing examples, but in my notes, i literally just have the sentence “Elaine’s face slowly comes into focus as she figures out what’s going on? Holy f*ck, that’s some good sh*t.”
Finally, I wanted to talk about the ending. Reviewing The Graduate and not analyzing the ending is like telling the story of 1930’s Europe and leaving out the whole “World War II” thing, so let’s get to it. For me, the meaning of the ending (in which Ben and Elaine flee Elaine’s wedding together and sit, conflicted in the back of a bus) is brought into focus by a seemingly pointless detail from earlier in the film. At one point early on, just before Ben and Elaine meet, Ben stands in the room with an upset Mrs. Robinson, who is watching the 60’s game show “The Newlywed Game”. For those who don’t know (read: “for those who aren’t huge game show nerds like me”) the point of The Newlywed Game was for couples to prove just how much they knew about each other, with the couple that new each other best winning. Elaine and Ben don’t know each other. They have a connection, yes, but they know hardly anything about who they are as people. the final moments of the film show the two of them, slowly retreating into isolation and contemplating what they have just done.
All in all, The Graduate is an absolutely stunning movie on multiple levels.
Five out of Five stars.
Look forward to next week, when I’ll probably wind up accidentally picking a film I hate and feel really bad about ripping into. And for now, thank you to the friends who suggested these films, I loved them both.
‘Till next week!