For being released in 1967, it’s pretty impressive how relevant The Graduate still is in 2011. I graduated in December 2009 with a degree in film and television media studies and soon discovered that my studies in school were very different from the jobs available in the “real world,” whatever that actually means. After nearly two years after graduation, I still have no idea what I really want to do. Fortunately, this is a feeling most recent college grads can relate to, including Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock!
Upon arriving home from a successful college career, Benjamin is immediately bombarded with questions by his parents’ friends about what he plans to do with his life now. Everyone has such high expectations for him, but Benjamin simply feels lost and confused. As I watched the beginning party scene where Benjamin is interrogated by all the guests, I couldn’t help but think of my own graduation party. “What are you going to do now? What’s your plan?” The shock on people’s faces when I replied that I had no plan yet was always encouraging. The Graduate is also an obvious influence on the film Garden State, which I was completely obsessed with in high school. There’s something comforting in knowing that feelings of ambiguity and fear for the future have always been, and always will be, a staple of every 20-something-year-old’s life.
In addition to its more serious commentary on life, The Graduate has a lighthearted side as well. The back of the DVD case would lead you to believe that it’s nothing more than a silly sex comedy in the vein of Pillow Talk and other such films made famous by Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The synopsis states that Benjamin’s affair with Mrs. Robinson serves to deepen his confusion until he meets the girl of his dreams. “But there’s one problem: She’s Mrs. Robinson’s daughter!” This makes me wonder if The Graduate was originally marketed more as a romantic comedy and less as the satirical and socially relevant film it’s considered today.
Either way, the last scene of the film is the most important one to me. After the famous climax where Benjamin bangs on the church window, screaming for Elaine as she says “I do,” the two run out of the church and catch a ride on a bus. They take a seat in the back, and, slowly, their laughter and excitement fades to that same look of uncertainty we see when we first meet Benjamin. They may be in love and they may have each other, but that doesn’t mean all their problems are solved. In the words of the film’s elders, “What are you going to do now?”
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