The Graduate

graduateCharles Webb – The graduate (1963)

There were many young, disillusioned heroes being studied in the early 60s, Meursault in Camus’s The Outsider, McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. Like them, Benjamin is not a revolutionary; he doesn’t want to make a new, more free or equitable society. That was to come: in the mid-60s the American scene would brighten wonderfully before it darkened again. No, Benjamin merely wants to inform those around him that he hates the world they have made; it bores him, is stupid, and he cannot find a place in it. Like Melville’s Bartleby, he would just “prefer not to”.

This semi-teenage rite of passage baffles Benjamin as much as it baffles his parents. We see and hear the incomprehension in his very language, which is dull and inexpressive, as if he doesn’t really inhabit the words he uses; like everything else around him, language appears to not quite belong to him and there isn’t much he can make of it. Most of his speech consists of questions, few of which are answered, or even answerable.

But the triumph of the book, as of the film, is Mrs Robinson. If one essential quality of a good writer is the ability to make memorable characters who appear to transcend the work they appear in, then Mrs Robinson is one of the great monstrous creations of our time. Well-off, middle-aged, alcoholic, bitter, disillusioned, perverse and yet to be rescued by feminism, her situation is far worse than Benjamin’s.

Nonetheless, she is the book’s only potent character, a smooth, confident seductress, using Benjamin for sex while he is her more or less passive object. That, presumably, is how she likes them. Mrs Robinson, we know, will never consider her lover to be her equal. For her Benjamin is only of use if he is “just a kid”, and she always addresses him – with enraging superiority – in the firm terms of a mother to a child. “That’s enough,” she often says to him, suppressing his curiosity with her constant scolding.

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Mrs. Robinson: What are you so scared of?

Benjamin: I’m not scared, Mrs. Robinson.

Mrs. Robinson: Then why do you keep running away?

Benjamin: Because you’re going to bed. I don’t think I should be up here.

Mrs. Robinson: Haven’t you ever seen anybody in a slip before?

Benjamin: Yes, I have, but I just…Look, what if Mr. Robinson walked in right now?

Mrs. Robinson: What if he did?

Benjamin: Well, it would look pretty funny, wouldn’t it?

Mrs. Robinson: Don’t you think he trusts us together?

Benjamin: Of course he does, but he might get the wrong idea. Anyone might.

Mrs. Robinson: I don’t see why? I’m twice as old as you are. How could anyone think that…

Benjamin: But they would! Don’t you see?

Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin. I am not trying to seduce you!

Benjamin: I know that, but please, Mrs. Robinson. This is difficult..

Mrs. Robinson: Would you like me to seduce you?

Benjamin: What?

Mrs. Robinson: Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Benjamin: [A long pause] I’m going home now. I apologize for what I said. I hope you can forget it. But I’m going home right now.

Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin, would this be easier for you in the dark?

Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson. I can’t do this.

Mrs. Robinson: You what?

Benjamin: This is all terribly wrong.

Mrs. Robinson: Do you find me undesirable?

Benjamin: Oh, no, Mrs. Robinson. I think, I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends. I mean that. I find you desirable, but I, for God’s sake, can you imagine my parents? Can you imagine what they would say if they just saw us in this room here right now?

Mrs. Robinson: What would they say?

Benjamin: I have no idea Mrs. Robinson, but for god’s sake, they brought me up, they made a good life for me and I think they deserve better than this. I think they deserve a little better than jumping into bed with the partner’s wife.

Mrs. Robinson: Are you afraid of me?

Benjamin: Oh, no. You’re missing the point. Look. Maybe we could do something else together. Mrs. Robinson, would you like to go to a movie?


Mike Nichols – The Graduate (1967)

(Mike Nichols) introduces us to a young college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) who returns to a ferociously stupid upper-middle-class California suburb. He would like the chance to sit around and think about his future for several months. You know — think?

His family and their social circle demand that he perform in the role of Successful Young Upward-Venturing Clean-Cut All-American College Grad. At the end of two weeks Benjamin is driven to such a pitch of desperation that he demonstrates a new scuba outfit (birthday present from proud dad) by standing on the bottom of the family pool: Alone at last.

One of his parents’ contemporaries (Anne Bancroft) seduces Benjamin, who succumbs mostly out of weariness and disbelief. Then he falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross), and sets in motion a fantastic chain of events that ends with Miss Ross (just married to a handsome blond Nordic pipe-smoking fraternity boy) being kidnapped from the altar by Benjamin. He jams a cross into the church door to prevent pursuit, and they escape on a bus.

This is outrageous material, but it works in “The Graduate” because it is handled in a straightforward manner. Dustin Hoffman is so painfully awkward and ethical that we are forced to admit we would act pretty much as he does, even in his most extreme moments. Anne Bancroft, in a tricky role, is magnificently sexy, shrewish, and self-possessed enough to make the seduction convincing.

Miss Ross, a newcomer previously seen in “Games,” not only creates a character with depth and honesty, but is so attractive that now we know how Ann-Margret would have looked if she had turned out better.

Nichols stays on top of his material. He never pauses to make sure we’re getting the point. He never explains for the slow-witted. He never apologizes. His only flaw, I believe, is the introduction of limp, wordy Simon and Garfunkel songs and arty camera work to suggest the passage of time between major scenes. Otherwise, “The Graduate” is a success and Benjamin’s acute honesty and embarrassment are so accurately drawn that we hardly know whether to laugh or to look inside ourselves.



Simon & Garfunkel – The Graduate Soundtrack (1968)

The soundtrack to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate remains a key musical document of the late ’60s, although truth be told, its impact was much less artistic than commercial (and, for that matter, more negative than positive). With the exception of its centerpiece track, the elegiac and oft-quoted “Mrs. Robinson” — which only appears here as a pair of fragments — the Simon & Garfunkel songs that comprise much of the record (a series of Dave Grusin instrumentals round it out) appeared on the duo’s two preceding LPs; Nichols’ masterstroke was to transplant those songs into his film, where they not only meshed perfectly with the story’s themes of youthful rebellion and alienation (and the inner life of the central character, Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock) but also heralded a new era in movie music centered around the appropriation of past pop hits, a marketing gimmick that grew exponentially in the years to follow. The Graduate soundtrack, then, merits the dubious honor of being the earliest and one of the most successful Hollywood repackagings of “found” pop songs, a formula essentially based around coercing fans to purchase soundtrack albums filled with material they already own in order to acquire the occasional new track or two.

The album began its life because of Nichols’ enthusiasm for the duo’s music, and Columbia Records chief Clive Davis’ ability to persuade the pair of the importance of a soundtrack LP. Davis turned the actual making of the album over to producer Teo Macero, who approached it with skepticism — Paul Simon and Mike Nichols had discovered that they really weren’t on the same page, with Nichols rejecting “Overs” and “Punky’s Dilemma,” songs that ended up as highlights of the Bookends album, issued two months after The Graduate soundtrack. Thus, there wasn’t enough Simon & Garfunkel material to fill even one LP side, and only about eight minutes of that were “new” recordings, and barely a quarter of that (the “Mrs. Robinson” fragments) new song material. And there also wasn’t enough of David Grusin’s instrumental music (none of which meshed with the duo’s work) for an album. Macero combined this material into a musically awkward LP that somehow did its job — which, in Davis’ eyes, was to introduce Simon & Garfunkel’s music to the parents of their existing audience (topping the charts in the bargain, and turning Grusin’s “Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha” into a favorite of easy listening stations). Fans of Simon & Garfunkel likely felt cheated by the presence of the “Mrs. Robinson” fragments, as well as repeats of the 1966-vintage “The Sound of Silence” and “April Come She Will,” and an edited extension of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.” But there were two curiosities for the completist — a high-wattage, edited rendition of “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” (in a style seemingly parodying the sound of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited); and a gentle, subdued acoustic reprise of “The Sound of Silence,” which was possibly the best studio rendition the duo ever gave of the song.



Simon & Garfunkel – Mrs Robinson

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know wo wo wo
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know wo wo wo
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It’s a little secret just the Robinsons affair
Most of all, you’ve got to hide it from the kids

Coo coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it when you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Where have you gone, Joe Di Maggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you woo woo woo
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
“Joltin Joe has left and gone away”
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey



Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted
In my brain still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams, I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash
Of a neon light that split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices
Never shared and no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written
On the subway walls and tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”



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