The Graduate is a perfect depiction of how a pathetic, naive kid with no direction can grow some balls after he gets laid. Dustin Hoffman effortlessly makes the transition, though interestingly enough, after many years of reflection, the late critic Roger Ebert went from adoring the film as “the funniest American comedy of the year” to hating on Hoffman’s character, referring to him as “an insufferable creep” and feeling more sympathy instead for Mrs. Robinson.
This is an interesting viewpoint, since it’s not one you walk away with immediately upon viewing the film. But thinking back on it, I did find Benjamin (Hoffman) to be a bit of a dick in that he first did the right thing by rejecting the married Mrs. Robinson’s advances, but then he went back on his word and invited her to a hotel for their fling, knowing full well that what they were doing was wrong.
And then he pursues her daughter on top of it! Did he ever consider that the woman he was sleeping with would soon become his mother-in-law? I'd hate to be a guest at those family dinners.
He doesn’t seem to be that attracted to her at first, probably because she is so much older than him and because she’s been friends with his parents for years. I don’t think I could feel anything for friends of my parents other than platonic love, if I’d ever go so far as to say I “loved” any of them. But I digress. You get zero chemistry from these two. Their trysts are awkward and clumsy, and there’s no passion at all. I suppose that’s the point, to drive home the fact that this affair means nothing in the grand scheme of things, despite being able to tear everything apart.
Casting did a great job, though, because Katharine Ross looks like she really could be Anne Bancroft’s daughter. Maybe it’s just the make-up, but they even look like they have the same facial structure.
One thing I found distracting was the use of the music in the film. Now, I consider any opportunity to hear Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” to be a fortunate one, but it was overused in this film, as was “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” It felt odd to hear the songs play in their entirety at first, and to be used in their entirety again later on in the film, sometimes in near rapid succession. Maybe they should have just used clips, or expanded their S&G palette a little.
I was thankful that Wayne’s World 2 had parodied the end wedding scene since, being much younger than the film and having not yet seen it, I always tied the film (as I’m sure many do) to the affair, yet there is that whole other love story in the second half, which tends to go unnoticed, save for the film’s ambiguous ending.
Which, speaking of the ending, it’s always been understood that you’re supposed to be left with a feeling of uncertainty about these characters, yet seeing Benjamin’s smile fade and then, in turn, Elaine’s face drops as well, I got the sense that they realized they were too late, and that Elaine really was married off to someone else. So while it was fun to run away, reality caught up to them faster than they could reach the bus’s destination, wherever that may be.