The Graduate (1967)
Rated – PG
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Directed by Mike Nichols
There’s a frightened look on Benjamin Baddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) face during the opening credits. As Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” plays, Benjamin is terrified to come home after graduating college. It’s a feeling that we all have felt after the years of college ends. “What do I do now?”
Like most of us, Benjamin has no clue what to do next. He is an intelligent young man, but the many possibilities that lie in front of him throws him into a panic of confusion. His family throws him a party where his life-long family and friends congratulate him on his success thus far. Also, they can’t stop asking about Benjamin’s future. He sweats from his palms and attempts to change the topic as soon as it comes up.
Later on in the night, he’s offered a proposal that seems too good to be true. Mrs. Robinson, a family friend, seduces Benjamin and offers an exciting summer to the recent graduate. The two share an affair throughout the summer until Benjamin falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine.
As the best films about teenagers and youth adults show, it’s hard growing up. Rarely does one know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives as such a young age. But we’re forced to find ourselves quickly from the pressure of family and society. Because of this pressure, Benjamin makes some decisions that he soon regrets.
What makes The Graduate such a classic is because of how easily it is to relate to Benjamin. His character is moral. He’s a nice guy that just got sucked into the stress of the real world. But what his character, and the movie, represents is an empowerment to the youth to engage in the freedom we all have and to do what we want to do. Benjamin wasn’t rebelling against the rules, he was simply testing out the waters that were unfamiliar to him. And that’s what we all have to go through to find out exactly what we want. It’s the trial and error process that can result in mistakes and regrets, but in the long run it makes everyone stronger than before.
The final shot of the film is one of the more powerful endings that I can remember. The blank, troubled, and fearful expression on Dustin Hoffman’s face as he stares forward from the back of the bus sent chills down my spine. While Katharine Ross smiles and turns for his attention, he doesn’t acknowledge her. Maybe he realizes a life that he jumped into that he isn’t ready for yet. Maybe he realizes the huge leap he just made from a feeling that he’s having second doubts about. His act was on a whim and his expression shows strong evidence that things aren’t going to work out like he planned. It’s a haunting final image to end a great movie.