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The Graduate
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb)
Stars: Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson), Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock), Katharine Ross (Elaine Robinson), William Daniels (Mr. Braddock), Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson), Elizabeth Wilson (Mrs. Braddock), Buck Henry (Room Clerk), Brian Avery (Carl Smith), Walter Brooke (Mr. McGuire), Norman Fell (Mr. McCleery)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1967
Country: U.S.
The Graduate 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD
Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. As is true with many great films that are irrevocably connected to their time and place, certain elements of Mike Nichol's The Graduate have not aged terribly well. Simon & Garfunkel's folksy soundtrack has a certain datedness, particularly in the way Nichols relies so heavily on particular songs (at one point he hits us with “Scarborough Fair” at least four times in less than 10 minutes, and virtually any significant transition during the first 45 minutes is guaranteed to be punctuated with the lyrics “Hello darkness, my old friend”). Some of the eye-grabbing visual gimmicks, from rapid zooms to the extended first-person view of Ben Braddock's scuba adventure in the backyard swimming pool, so edgy and radical for their time, seem a bit silly now. And the whole second half of the movie, in which Ben literally stalks the love of his life and saves her from an out-of-nowhere wedding ceremony, feels more contrived every time I see it.

Yet, the film still works beautifully, and to understand just how relevant The Graduate is four decades after its initial release divided American audiences right down the generation gap, all you need do is watch it in a roomful of college students. They get it. Just as they did in the late 1960s, viewers in their late teens and early 20s immediately pick up on The Graduate's slyly comical view of post-college malaise. Although the trials and tribulations of Benjamin Braddock have roots in the cultural milieu of 1967 (“I have one word for you: plastics”), his existential crisis still resonates with those of a similar age who recognize the universality of being at a crossroads in life and having absolutely no idea which way to go. While some have criticized The Graduate for leaving out so many cultural issues--Vietnam, the counterculture, drug use, politics--I would argue it is precisely their absence that gives the film its timelessness. Viewers in 1967 could feel the presence of those issues in the margins and read them into the actions; viewers today lay their own cultural schema over the film's narrative, and in their eyes it seems new again.

Along with Nichols' boundary-pushing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate marked the beginning of a wave of films by younger filmmakers who were working in the margins of the lumbering studio system and slowly but surely making American movies socially relevant again. The labor pains of the “New American Cinema” could be felt in the way films like The Graduate split moviegoers cleanly along age lines. Although Bosley Crowther of The New York Times had high praise for the film (earlier in the year he had smashed Bonnie and Clyde as “a squalid shoot-'em for the moron trade”), much of the older generation either didn't get or didn't appreciate the film's satirical view of the affluent American upper class as a morass of immaturity and corruption hidden behind beautiful houses and garden parties. Perhaps it hit a little too close to home.

Meanwhile, the youth of America were lining up at the theaters, turning The Graduate into the highest grossing film of the year and drawing enough attention that it was nominated for seven Oscars and won one for Best Director. They loved the film's quirky tone and mixture of social observation and wry physical humor. And, even if they couldn't articulate the specifics, they were wowed with Nichols' clever incorporation of art film aesthetics, which drew on everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Federico Fellini to John Cassavetes. Art film purists tend to bemoan the mainstreaming of their precious radical poetics, but it's hard to begrudge Nichols' appropriation of them when he does it so well. He hinges unconventional aesthetics to conventional emotions and psychology, giving them meaning without entirely stripping them of their disjunctive tone. He also mixes these aesthetics beautifully with perfectly realized long takes that allow entire sequences to play without a single cut (surely a result of Nichols' stagework).

The story follows Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman in one of the great film debuts), a young man who has recently graduated from college and returned home to live with his parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) while he figures out what to do with his life. The film's opening sequence establishes his alienation, as he is shuttled around a claustrophobic party at his parents' house that is ostensibly in his honor, but only makes him feel more withdrawn than ever. The entire sequence is composed of close, hand-held shots that both reflect Ben's discomfort and add a layer of social comedy as each adult figure in the room approaches Ben with apparent good intentions and invariably demonstrates precisely why Ben is so petrified of joining their shallow ranks.

Out of boredom, ennui, or just plain confusion, Ben falls into a repetitive affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the troubled fortysomething wife of his father's law partner (Murray Smith). The scene in which Mrs. Robinson first tries to seduce Ben after he drives her home from the party is rightfully a classic, from Hoffman's stuttering embarrassment and barely audible whimpers of discomfort, to Bancroft's sultry, but slightly pathetic openness. As others have pointed out, Mrs. Robinson is by far the film's most fascinating character--a complex, broken woman whose youthful vibrancy has been twisted into something ugly by regret and neglect. She is, in many ways, a mirror of where Ben is in danger of ending up, and it is unfortunate that she is reduced to a one-note monster when Ben falls in love with her college-age daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).

Ultimately, though, the The Graduate is Ben's story, which is why many have found it so peculiar that Ben is such a blank character. With no discernible political interests, career interests, or personal interests, he is almost a nonentity, and celebrants of the counterculture often decry the fact that he has been labeled one of their cinematic mascots. This, of course, misses the point entirely. The Graduate is a fascinating comedy that has lasted as long as it has because Ben is not a simple representative of one side versus the other. Yes, it is true that Nichols paints adult life in broad, comic strokes of shallowness at best (Ben's parents), utter corruption at worst (Mrs. Robinson). But, by leaving Ben essentially blank, he opens a wide, gaping hole in the middle of the film that viewers are free to fill in for themselves.

Ben becomes a timeless character precisely because he doesn't adhere to a particular set of political principles that are bound to look naïve, ridiculous, or outdated some time in the future. He is every alienated young person who ever tried to find his or her way in a world that, by chance or design, is overwhelming. As a character, the fact that Ben doesn't know what he wants to do with his life (and still doesn't in the film's infamous final shot) may come across as a weakness, but it encourages--literally demands--audience involvement. It is always easier to know what you don't want to be than what you do.

The Graduate 40th Anniversary Edition DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by actors Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross
  • Audio commentary by director Mike Nichols and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh
  • “Students of The Graduate” featurette
  • “The Seduction” featurette
  • “One on One With Dustin Hoffman” featurette
  • The Graduate at 25” featurette
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • CD featuring four songs from the original soundtrack
  • DistributorMGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    SRP$19.98
    Release DateSeptember 18, 2007

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    It's completely ridiculous that it's taken until 2007 to get an anamorphic widescreen transfer of a renowned classic like The Graduate (especially when it's already been released twice on DVD, both times with the same nonanamorphic image), but here it finally is. MGM's new 40th Anniversary Edition of The Graduate finally brings us a new high-definition anamorphic transfer to replace the washed-out transfer we've been stuck with since 1999. The image is drastically improved, with much sharper detail, better contrast, richer colors, and a smoother overall appearance. The image looks squeaky clean, with no scratches, dirt, or other signs of age to mar the carefully controlled widescreen compositions. The soundtrack has also been given a major upgrade from monaural to two new 5.1-channel mixes, one in Dolby Digital and one in DTS. Both sound excellent and don't overdo the remixing. Simon and Garfunkel's songs are given new spaciousness and depth, while the dialogue and effects are kept clear and understandable. For purists, the original monaural soundtrack is also included.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    For the film's 40th anniversary, MGM has stocked the disc with a mix of supplements new and old. Making repeat appearances from the previously available disc are the 22-minute “One on One With Dustin Hoffman” featurette and “The Graduate at 25” featurette, which also runs about 22 minutes.

    New this time around are two audio commentaries. The first reunites Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross, who seem to enjoy reminiscing about the film together. Although it is the lesser of the two commentaries, it is still worth sampling. Much better is the commentary that reunites director Mike Nichols and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who recorded a commentary together for Paramount's DVD of Nichols' ill-fated and underappreciated follow-up Catch-22 (1970). Soderbergh, who is clearly a fan of Nichols' work, plays the role of interviewer, asking Nichols questions about making the film and allowing the seasoned director to run with them. It's a real joy listening to them talk about the film, and those who are seeing it for the first time will find loads of insight.

    The disc also features two new featurettes. “Students of The Graduate” (25 min.) is designed primarily to emphasize the influence the film had and continues to have on the cinema. It includes interviews with a broad array of people, including directors (Harold Ramis, Marc Forster, David O. Russell), film professors (USC's Bruce Block, UCLA's Vivian Sobchack), film critics (Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, Newsweek's David Ansen), and those involved in making the film (producer Lawrence Turman, screenwriter Buck Henry). “The Seduction” is a shorter, 9-min. featurette that includes interviews with many of the same people (as well as a relationship therapist) talking about the interrelationships among the film's characters and the infamous seduction scene.

    For fans of the music, there is a bonus CD included that features four songs from the original soundtrack: “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” and “April Come She Will.”

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © MGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


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