Apr 26, 2013

[Movies] The Graduate (1967)

After watching the Repertory Philippines staging of the play, I figured it was more than overdue to finally get around to watching the movie version of The Graduate. While I had seen snippets of the movie over the years whether on movie awards shows or on movie channels on HBO, I had never really managed to find the time to just sit down and watch the whole thing from start to finish.

At times it feels tricky to watch older movies like this given our more "modern" sensibilities. The way that they used to make movies before is worlds different from how they come together now. And it's not even a question of one style being better or worse than the other. They're just very different and it works for some movies and it won't work for others.

I think this is what makes remakes such volatile topics of discussion and criticism. They deliberately try to translate an older vision into the more current style of things and more often than not you end up with a completely different product. Thus the reason I tend to advocate more original stories as opposed to remakes given how these attempts to reimagine older stories leaves you with a new movie entirely.

But this movie, well, this is truly a classic.

Synopsis: The Graduate is a 1967 comedic drama based on the Charles Webb novel of the same name. It was directed by Mike Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director and the movie is frequently cited as one of the best 100 films of all time.

It's the graduation party for young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), on the cusp of turning 21. Everyone is excited about his plans for the future - well everyone except Ben himself. While his parents continue to ignore his discomfort and anxiety, Ben is just feeling worse and worse about his lack of clear direction for the future.

Mrs. Robinson (Anne Brancroft), the wife of one of Ben's father's friends, asks him to drive her home given the amount of wine alcohol she's had. But once inside she attempts to seduce him given she finds him quite attractive. Thus she leaves an open invitation for him to take advantage of her at any time, much to Ben's confusion. But this moment ends once her husband arrives home. But of course Ben continues to think about her offer until he finally decides to take it.

First of all, I cannot get over how amazing the direction for this movie is. It sounds a tad cliche, especially given the fact that the movie won the Oscar for directing. But seriously, take a moment to just appreciate how well thought so many of the sequences are and you'll see what I mean. Nichols made amazing use of changing the depth of field, using the characters themselves to frame his shots and other techniques to demonstrate other messages and themes interwoven into the overall narrative.

Dustin Hoffman is surprisingly young in this movie, but already his rather signature ramble is more than evident. And it works quite well for the character of young Benjamin as he tries to puzzle through life by essentially thinking out loud. My only complaint is probably the fact that he could have looked a lot younger to really have the portrayal make more sense. But we work with what we are given.

Of course Anne Bancroft is just brilliant in all of her scenes in this movie. She's elegant, classy and totally in control of most of her conversations with Benjamin. Yes, she has seduced a much younger man but the way she does it seems almost effortless in the way she steers him into verbal corners and then swoops in for the kill. I can't imagine how anyone could have resisted her advances given the way she executed things. Mrs. Robinson is certainly one dangerous woman indeed.

The music of the movie also certainly helps define it and make it so characteristic and distinct. The decision to use different songs that were popular in the period certainly made more of an impact as opposed to just relying on original scoring to set the tone for things.

This movie is all about having all the right elements to make it truly memorable and the clear directorial vision to put all those same pieces together correctly. Too many times we see movies with so much potential based on casting and the story and yet still manage to fall apart in the end because of bad direction. In this case the movie wasn't like that at all and I am glad that I finally got to see it in its entirety.

The Graduate is a brilliant piece of storytelling and one that tracks not just some kid having an affair with an older woman but the complex coming-of-age troubles that any of us might have faced before, although with an Anne Bancroft twist. Thus I'm more than happy to rate it with a full 5 scuba diving suits out of a possible 5.

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