The Graduate - 1967
The Graduate follows the post graduation days of Ben Braddock, played famously by Dustin Hoffman, as he goes through an existential crisis, trying to find a purpose in his adult life. Once back home he reconnects with Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft, and begins an affair with his longtime parent's friend.
The Graduate sets its tone through the use of its score composed by Simon and Garfunkel. From the very first time we meet Ben, we see the deep depression and loneliness in his eyes as "The Sound of Silence" plays throughout the opening scene, you immediately understand in what state of mind our main character is, and it will help us understand all his decisions throughout the movie. These songs are used very deliberately by director Mike Nichols, and I will circle back to this specific song in a bit.
With the minimal back story for our characters, we quickly understand what type of family Ben is from and what is expected from him as he enters his post-graduate life. As his parent parade him in front of their friends, we can see the social anxiety and discomfort grow in Ben's face and is saved from the party after being forced by Mrs. Robinson to drive her home.
Forced is the perfect way of describing the relationships in this movie. The relationship Ben has with Mrs. Robinson, with his Parents and with Elaine (Mrs. Robinson daughter), all feel forced and unnatural. Mrs. Robinson tricks and manipulates Ben until he finally gives in to his carnal needs. To the point where he starts to doubt himself and to why he is in this affair. The first half of this movie plays out as a hilarious dark comedy. The first hotel scene from the lobby to the room is one of the funniest sequences ever put to film and knowing Dustin Hoffman improvised the grabbing of the breast is so simple yet brilliant, helps me understand why it's regarded so highly.
Once Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine, enters the movie the tone of the film quickly shifts to a weird stalker movie. Ben is forbidden to go after Elaine by Mrs. Robinson, and this triggers a deep obsession within Ben since he sees her as his escape from his depression. While the second half is not as strong as the first half, the movie overall is still a great film and a true classic.
The last shot of the movie is pure brilliance and a real insight into how Nichols crafted the film. The opening scene as I mentioned above shows us the depression of Ben by using Dustin's brilliant performance along with "The Sound of Silence" playing along. After the affair become almost a routine for Ben, we see a montage (with very slick transitions) of his day to day going from laying around in the pool at his home to laying in bed with Mrs. Robinson, with "The Sound of Silence" again playing along, signaling the return of his depression. Now in the very last shot of the movie, Ben stole Elaine away from her wedding day, they escape the masses from the church, and they reach a bus. Climbing inside they sit in the back happy as could be and as the moment starts to hit them both "The Sound of Silence" begins to play again and the movie ends.
Mike Nichols puts on a directing clinic in this dark comedy, where every scene is felling natural and unrehearsed, yet you can see that almost every single detailed was planned out to move the plot forward. His use of the same song over an over again almost giving Ben's depression its theme song, is an incredible choice and a beautiful way of portraying inner conflict without having to say it verbally. This use of music to convey emotion along with Dustin's acting is why I love movies.
The Graduate is currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend giving it a watch.