When I graduated from college, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to write movie reviews and, hopefully, get to be a household name that people turn to every week to find out what movies to see. I was nervous before my graduation, but even more nervous afterward, waiting for the first call for the first interview. College might prepare you for the job you perform, but it never prepares you for the rest of life’s many challenges, whether it is paying your bills making a not-so-big salary or falling in love with the daughter of the married woman you’ve been sleeping with. There are just some things you have to go out there and learn on your own, I guess.
It’s been 40 years since The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), returned home from college with a list of expectations from his parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), with several prestigious awards for his academics. But, he is confused and anxious trying to figure out what to do with his life. That is when he is reacquainted with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a recovering alcoholic and wife of Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton), who is a business partner of Benjamin’s father (William Daniels). With one ride home, the aggressive and playful Mrs. Robinson begins her seduction of the soon-to-be 21-year-old college grad.
As the affair starts and grows, more late nights are spent at The Taft Hotel lying in bed doing everything but talking, and Braddock’s confusion about life grows deeper. Despite not knowing much about Mrs. Robinson’s personal life, he becomes more and more involved with the sexy mistress that stole his virginity. That is until he is forced to go out on a date with Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross), who happens to be the daughter of Mrs. Robinson. He soon finds his life is less confusing when Elaine is around, despite the fact that Mrs. Robinson has forbidden the relationship to be pursued, threatening to tell their dirty little secrets. It doesn’t matter to Benjamin, though, for he finally found something he wants in his life and he will do anything to make sure he gets her to stay.
This film can be summed up in one simple word: classic. There is a reason The Graduate was nominated for seven Academy Awards and Mike Nichols won one for best director. It’s because this film tells a compelling, funny and often twisted love story of a man trying to find his way in the real world. It is a story that almost everyone can relate to, no matter how outrageous some of the story may seem. Everyone, at some point in their life after college, sits around wondering where the road of life is going to lead. But, not everyone has an older, sexy seductress leading the way down one of the paths.
The late Anne Bancroft was born to play the poignant character of Mrs. Robinson, and that was enforced by her nomination for best actress. There is nothing about this woman that doesn't ooze sex appeal. From her aggressive and forward nature to the sexy long legs being covered by stockings in a hotel room, this woman knows what she wants, despite the ring on her finger and her past bout with alcoholism. She knows what she wants and she is going to do anything to take it, and Bancroft plays it with ease and the perfect amount of humor. But, her role is also a sad one. This is a lonely woman, obviously desiring affection and attention she doesn’t get from sleeping in a bedroom down the hall from her husband. And while she gets the attention and affection she wants, it is taken away from her, and that is when Mrs. Robinson becomes less confident, withdrawn and cruel, especially as Benjamin starts to fall for her daughter.
Hoffman, who was nominated for best actor and has won two golden statues, displays his versatility as a young man coming into his own. He starts out not-so-confident, shy and withdrawn, sort of drifting through life waiting for something different to come along. He finds that in Mrs. Robinson, and while it’s a different place for him to be, you watch this confused boy become a man and face situations he is not familiar with head-on, especially love and lust. He comes of age, determining that his secret life at night is no way to live, and all the anxiety that fills Braddock’s head of what to do with his life turns into anxiety of how he is going to make things better to get what he wants. Ross, who earned a best supporting actress nomination, portrays a college woman who is just as confused about life as Braddock. You can see how they connect, despite an auspicious start of their first date. She is a beautiful woman, who seems to come into her own in with Braddock, while dealing with a troubled past and the fact that she truly loves a man who has done one of the most immoral of things – with her mother, of all people.
Nichols does a masterful job of blending music into the action of the film, basically making it a character in the film. The music is playful, like when Mrs. Robinson begins her seduction of Benjamin at the bar in her home, with the famous first glance of Bancroft’s leg leaning on a bar stool. It is also dark and mysterious, as classic Simon and Garfunkel songs play when Benjamin is under water in his family pool or walking through the airport in the film's first scene. It is done in the same fashion Stanley Kubrick incorporated classical music into his films, like A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this music often provides a less serious tone.
The Graduate is 40 years old. The story, the film and its performances have withstood the test of time, and this movie deserves to be celebrated and watched over and over again. Yes, this movie has many immoral and scandalous moments, but it remains a satirical look at life that stands true to this very day. Thousands of movies have been made since 1967, but not many have been celebrated and become such a prominent cornerstone of modern cinema. Many movies have come and gone, trying to copy the formula that made The Graduate so successful, but they’ve all been, and remember this word, plastic.
What is the best part of any birthday or anniversary celebration? The gifts! And with The Graduate turning 40, there are plenty of gifts included in the packaging of this DVD. Besides the movie, the disc also includes a great compilation of special features ranging from director and actor commentaries to interviews and theatrical trailers. While we should be the one’s giving the gifts, MGM has decided to bestow the viewers with all the gifts, including a second disc with four classic Simon and Garfunkel tunes.
The first two features are easily the best on the disc, especially for those of you who love The Graduate or just love knowing the thought process behind the making of a classic film ahead of its time. There are two different commentaries available – one with Hoffman and Ross, and the other with Nichols and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. While it is truly unfortunate Bancroft was not able to be a part of this commentary, listening to Hoffman and Ross describe their thoughts and feelings about the film, as well as life in the late 1960s, is a great way to enjoy the film after having re-watched it for the first time in a while.
In “Students of the Graduate,” several directors, including Harold Ramis and David O. Russell, speak of what they learned about filmmaking from watching the film, and how The Graduate feels new each and every time they view it. It is both a study of Nichols’ filmmaking, as well as an admiration of everything the film is about and stands for.
“The Seduction” has critics and filmmakers dissecting the main characters and what lead to the inevitable coming together of Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. It takes you through the film's most famous parts, telling you the motives behind each character. It is a fun feature – one that could have used the sense of humor and experience of Bancroft. And while I was hoping to see a little of Bancroft in the feature called “The Graduate at 25,” she didn’t show up there either, even though it was made 15 years ago. This feature includes interviews with screenwriter and actor Buck Henry, Hoffman, Ross, Nichols and others involved in the film. It is a compilation of interviews done when the film turned 25, and describes what they felt about the movie, and certain scenes, such as when Braddock grabs a cross off the wall in a church and starts swinging it at a crowd. It is another interesting feature.
The features on the first disc wind down with the full one-on-one interview with Hoffman from the film’s 25th anniversary, and two trailers – one being the original theatrical trailer and the other being the Academy Award trailer.
I did, however, mention there is a second disc in the 40th anniversary set. While some may be disappointed to learn that there is nothing to watch on this disc, others may be happy to learn that the disc contains four original songs from the soundtrack. And, of course, they are all Simon and Garfunkel songs. The songs include The Sounds of Silence, Mrs. Robinson, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, and April Come She Will.
Personally, I am more than satisfied with the features on the two discs, despite the fact that a good portion of the material was shot 15 years ago, and there are no interviews with the biggest piece to the film – Mrs. Robinson. However, for someone who is a fan of The Graduate and a fan of film – like me – this package sufficiently wets and satisfies the pallet. The packaging of this special anniversary is enough to seduce you into buying it, but everything included will leave you wanting to watch it over and over again – and, luckily, the box has no daughters you can fall in love with.