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From Under A Rock: The Graduate

September 17, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: The Graduate  

Some films are iconic and have to be seen by any serious cinephile. Today, we are covering a comedy that ranked at #7 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100 Films from 1997. The opening act is one of the most legendary and quoted scenes in movies, and Simon and Garfunkel’s music is known even to those who have never seen the movie.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael had Aaron check out City of God. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock for The Graduate.

The Graduate
Released: December 22nd, 1967
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Buck Henry & Calder Willingham
Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock
Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson
Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson

Aaron Hubbard: I watched this for the first time last year, and while I liked it, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I knew I would rewatch it eventually, and since Michael hadn’t gotten around to it, I figured I should bring him along.

Michael Ornelas: It’s definitely one of those films I have seen referenced over and over again, and people were surprised when I hadn’t seen it. So I was more than happy to check it out. And I’m glad I did! I really enjoyed it, but we’ll get into it more below.
Hey Mrs. Robinson
Aaron: So let’s get this one out of the way. Even if you’ve never seen The Graduate, you probably know the famous line. “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” If you don’t know the famous line, you have probably heard the song. And it’s really not surprising; from the moment Mrs. Robinson sneaks into frame at the graduation party to the time Benjamin leaves her house in a fluster, everything about their interaction is note perfect. The tension is thick, and every time I think it is going one way, it goes another. It’s one of my favorite scenes in any movie, honestly.

Michael: I will say, I wish I had half as much game as Mrs. Robinson has. I am very rarely sucked into scenes in movies involving seduction. But I was being seduced right along with Benjamin. The scene was almost…hypnotic. And then when Mr. Robinson came home, I was almost relieved to see that Mrs. Robinson didn’t lose her cool. It allowed me to keep my own composure while viewing. It also made me wonder just how many affairs in which she’s participated before.

Aaron: Mrs. Robinson is my favorite character in the film, and I think she serves as an interesting counterpoint to Ben. She’s older, she’s lived long enough to be unsatisfied with her life, and she’s as lost and lonely as he is. She makes a mistake, but she’s also the one who responsibly pushed Ben away from her daughter, knowing that he isn’t mature enough to handle an actual relationship. After all, he can barely handle one that’s just about sex.
Ben 2
Impressionable Youth
Michael: I found it interesting that in the opening act of the film sees an indecisive protagonist who is led around and told what he wants. He’s in an awkward situation with Mrs. Robinson, but he’s almost embarrassingly unsure of his desires and is incredibly unconfident, it seems. The fact that he ends up in his relationship with Mrs. Robinson is a miracle, considering how little choice it seems he had in the matter, and that is exactly why our protagonist seems likable throughout the whole film. He’s wrecking a home, but he’s not the driving force behind it. Then when he does find what he wants (Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, of all people), we see a switch flip and the boy just became a man who has resolve, and opinions, and acts on them. It’s a classic story arc but it’s awesome to see it play out in this movie.

Aaron: Hoo boy, do I disagree with you here. I think that Benjamin Braddock is one of the least admirable characters in film. It really made me question the film’s quality the first time I saw it, but the second viewing has made me considerably more confident that this is intentional. I also think the target age group (teenage to college age men) are supposed to relate to Ben, which makes my theory all the more interesting.

Michael: It’s weird though: I didn’t relate to Ben. The situations he’s in throughout the film (dating a woman and her mother) are certainly the stuff of a certain type of man’s fantasies, but he never really seems proud of himself for it, which is what makes him redeeming in my eyes. The only time I find him to be truly despicable is when he takes Elaine out for the first time and essentially treats her like trash because he’s trying to spare her (and himself) from this emotionally damaging situation with her mother. But how does that date end? With us seeing his humanity and leveling with Elaine. I think at his core, Benjamin is a much better person than you’re giving him credit. He’s no saint, but he’s not a bad guy.
Young Men Are Awful and That’s The Point
Aaron: I recently watched (500) Days of Summer, which makes a direct correlation between Ben Braddock and the “protagonist” of its story. Fittingly, Joseph Gordon Levitt explains how people have misread that film: it’s not a story about a sweet guy and his unrequited love. It’s about a man-child who doesn’t realize how toxic he is in his relationship. And I feel that’s a perfect summation of this movie. We are meant to think that Ben is a good guy with rotten luck, but really he is a good-for-nothing punk without any spine, except when it comes to the two people he least needs to be involved with.

It’s Ben who turns the encounter with the lonely Mrs. Robinson into an explicitly sexual relationship. It’s Ben who lays about doing nothing because one person told him to relax. It’s Ben who acts like a jackass on his date with Elaine Robinson, and it’s Ben who refuses to move on when she clearly has. Yes, he’s in tough spots, and he doesn’t have the maturity to deal with it. But that doesn’t make him less responsible for his actions.

Michael: We are simply in disagreement. I feel like Mrs. Robinson was in the driver’s seat for their affair. She’s the one who undresses and forces him to stay against his will, and makes the offer that a sexual relationship is on the table whenever he wants it. I feel he had the willpower to deny it once, but like any young man, the promise of sex is often hard to turn down. So he cracks and eventually calls her to take her up on it. He also isn’t the one who targets Elaine. His own parents set that up and he pretty adamantly refuses at first. I feel he spends the whole movie trying to make the right decisions, but doesn’t have the maturity or the willpower to follow through on them. But sometimes, good intentions are enough for a character to be redeeming. I also feel that given what his relationship with Elaine was like before the truth came out, he followed his heart in trying to get her back. We see just how willingly she leaves her own wedding to be with him; they clearly had something special. All is fair in love and war, so they say.

Aaron: Elaine does run off with him, but I believe this is a case of doing a Hollywood ending in order to subvert and commentate on it. The final shot of the movie shows that Ben is happy, but it also shows Elaine looking at him and being unsure. It’s as if she’s realized she’s made the same mistake her mother made. This, I believe, is intentional; Ben’s actions aren’t what is most important. What other people say about him and how they react is the real story. I don’t think Ben is horrible, but I do think he’s supposed to be stupid and immature in a way that makes people think.

Aaron: Michael and I may be in disagreement about what the film is trying to say, but I think this is a mark in the film’s favor. We’ve got two interpretations and both love the film as we see it. The Graduate is awesome.


Michael: Different interpretations be damned, I enjoyed this movie immensely. I even texted Aaron part-way through saying “this isn’t my usual type of movie, but I’m eating it up,” (or something to that extent), and it’s true. I feel it was a romantic drama that was gripping at every turn. What I do want to clarify based on my disagreements with Aaron was that I don’t find this movie to be glorifying of dating a mother/daughter combination, but it does show a guy’s navigation through those tricky waters to end up with the ultimately “happy” ending.


Aaron: Have we ever disagreed on a movie while liking it at the same time? This is weird, but cool.

Michael: Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is a first for us. But we’re over a year into doing this every single week. Had to happen eventually, yeah?

Did Aaron stumble into the deeper meaning of this film, or is he reading too much into things and projecting? You decide!

Next week:

Michael: It’s time for one of the most ridiculous movies of all-time that, somehow, still has a high score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Face Off
Aaron: I have only seen parts of this movie from a Nostalgia Critic review, but I think the premise is fantastic, if ridiculous. I’m looking forward to it.

Michael: And Nic Cage…oh man, if he isn’t perfect in this, I don’t know what life means.

If you could trade faces with anyone, who would it be?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate

Michael’s Spin on Things!
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews compliments from his very own friends as a…suicide method? Ruh-roh!

Aaron Has Another Column!
Before I dive into DC Lore for six weeks, I wanted to highlight possibly the greatest comic book villain of all time; the mutant master of Magnetism, Magneto!

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for 550 films. I will steadily be adding reviews for them as well as creating various lists that anonymous internet commenters can vehemently disagree with!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Graduate is pretty spectacular any way you slice it. We didn't even get to talk about the claustrophobic cinematography or the screwball comedy that makes this so fun to watch. Whether it's meant to be a straightforward coming of age tale or sly commentary on the immaturity of kids, it's a great watch.