Mike Nichols' second film, after the incredible Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is probably regarded as his greatest triumph. The Graduate, a 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, is a fiercely funny and emotional film with exceptional cinematography and flawless acting. Mike Nichols deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film, which features a great soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, who were relatively known at the time. The opening sequences of the film make the viewer feel as suffocated as Dustin Hoffman's character, and credit must be given to both the actor and the director for making creating that chaotic atmosphere. Roger Ebert initially praised Nichols for his pacing, but in a later review commented that the film's portrayal of the generation gap in the 1960s is not as poignant today. I disagree. The transition is difficult for anyone who has returned home after graduating university. The Graduate may be over forty years old, but Mike Nichols' perspective is unique and the film, which is highly regarded by the American Film Institute, has a lot more to offer on top of the Academy Award-nominated performances by its three principle actors.
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is almost twenty-one and has just graduated from an East coast college. He has just returned to his parents' home in Pasadena in time for a graduation party. He is anxious about his future and would prefer to ignore the possibilities. The camera, using a variety of awkward angles and close ups, mimics Ben's unease as he weaves his way through the house making a variety of excuses to limit conversations. The wife of his father's law partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), corners Ben in his bedroom and requests a ride home. Ben obliges, though his shy and awkward behaviour is a sharp contrast to her blunt and straightforward attitude. Mrs. Robinson leads Ben into her home, forces a drink on him and eventually disrobes in her daughter's bedroom in front of him. Though their relationship does not begin that night, they do begin an affair. He is consumed by their sexual relationship and his parents are worried with him spending the day floating in the pool and his absences at night. He is eventually forced to take Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) on a date. Mrs. Robinson is furious and her relationship with Ben suffers. Ben finds himself falling in love with Elaine but the relationship is put in jeopardy when she finds out that he had an affair with her mother.
The Graduate was the first major film role for Dustin Hoffman and he was awarded an Academy Award nomination for his role. His portrayal of Ben as a shy and socially awkward young man is wonderful. Mike Nichols' camera work suits the melancholic attitude of the character perfectly. It amazes me that he was thirty years old in 1967 and that he is only six years younger than Anne Bancroft, who was pretty close to flawless in the film. Her performance relied on her alluring eyes, the eyes which seduced Dustin Hoffman at the beginning of the film which then became filled with rage by the end. With the powerful performance by Anne Bancroft it may have been easy to overlook Katharine Ross, whose young Elaine seemed naive and fragile compared to her dominating mother, but she matched the power with a mature performance. The Graduate has too many great qualities and that is why it is retains its status in film history. It is not just a comedy about a young man and his affair with an older woman. The dark and shocking moments are what keep The Graduate from becoming just another coming-of-age film that could have easily been forgotten.
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.