In this comprehensive article, Robert Beuka looks at Mike Nichols’ The Graduate in the context of the expanding suburban landscape of the 1950s and 1960s. He addresses The Graduate as a coming of age film in which Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is faced with the challenges of growing up and becoming a man in an increasingly materialistic world. Benjamin’s fear of entering this world is both explicitly and implicitly referred to from the opening scene until the conclusion of the film. The title of this article, “Just One World… ‘PLASTICS’” alludes to the piece of advice that Benjamin’s father’s friend, Mr. McGuire, imposes upon Benjamin in the very beginning of the film and, according to Beuka, serves as an “apt metaphor for the very lifestyle Ben fears he may be on the verge of entering.” Beuka asserts that Benjamin represents the entire generation of young males facing adulthood in this highly materialistic and contrived environment of upper middle class suburbia. Plastic is highly representative of the empty and superficial nature of this suburban lifestyle, as is the recurring use of the swimming pool, which not only illustrates materialism, but also symbolizes the “self-destructive narcissism of the suburban dream.” Beuka also focuses on the issue of masculinity and the theme of suburban emasculation. The insecurity inherent in the image of the utopian patriarchal family led to a repressive role for adult males, who were trapped in an almost childlike state. It is this predetermined role and “plastic” lifestyle, which Benjamin sees his father living, that he fears most.Essentially, Beuka argues that Nichols uses the setting of upper middle class suburbia, complete with its big houses, nice cars, and abundant swimming pools, to highlight the view of postwar suburbia as vacuous and unfulfilling. This view, which just was emerging as the children of the suburban experience were entering adulthood, and the recurring theme of entrapment, facilitated by the underwater scenes in the swimming pool, are illustrated by the relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. Their affair serves as an “oedipal reaction to his parents’ denial of his own manhood” and embodies his constant struggle to break away from the restrictions placed on him by his parents and his suburban lifestyle. The final scene of the film in which he flees on a bus with Elaine, his girlfriend, demonstrates his triumph over these restraints.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.C55 R83 2001
The eighth chapter of Mark D. Rubinfeld’s Bound to Bond: Gender, Genre, and the Hollywood Romantic Comedy provides the reader with the fourth and final type of the Hollywood romantic comedy plots, which are outlined throughout the book. These four plots include the pursuit plot, the coldhearted redemption plot, the foil plot, and the permission plot. The permission plot, discussed in Chapter 8, “depicts a romantically involved hero and heroine encountering resistance from a parent and/or authority figure who vehemently disapproves of their courtship” (63). The disapproving figure tends to be a father, although it can be a mother or any person with authority over the hero and heroine. Within the permission plot there are two variations—the acceptance permission plot and the separation permission plot. The acceptance permission plot refers to instances in which the authority figure finally agrees to recognize and accept the relationship, and the hero and heroine are embraced by the formerly disapproving family. The separation permission plot, on the other hand, refers to instances in which the hero and/or the heroine never gain approval from the disapproving authority figure and must decide whether or not to betray their families or end their relationship. Rubinfeld then addresses the ideological contradictions inherent in both variations of the permission plots in that they both eventually support patriarchal ideology while at the same time appearing to challenge it.Even far more ideologically significant, according to Rubinfeld, is the relative lack of films employing permission plots since 1970. Prior to 1970, the permission plot maintained a strong presence. Rubinfeld asserts that the permission plot played a vital role in The Graduate, produced in 1967, which according to box office statistics, is the most popular romantic comedy in history (as of 1999). Despite the widespread success and popularity of The Graduate, only ten of the “top” 155 Hollywood romantic comedies produced from 1970-1999 utilize a permission plot. Rubinfeld attributes this decline to the notion that parents no longer have control over who their children marry. Rubinfeld considers the potential extinction of one of the four integral love story plots to be a grave concern.
Gavin Smith’s extensive interview with Mike Nichols on his career and his films is preceded by an honest and astute critique of the renowned filmmaker. According to Smith, Mike Nichols was a certified genius at the age of twelve and had become a “show-business legend” by the mid-1950s with his comedic collaborations with Elaine May. He entered the world of directing in 1963 when he directed Neil Simon’s play, Barefoot in the Park. In 1966, he crossed the threshold from stage to film. Nichols did not transition from stage to film slowly, but rather agreed to direct Edward Albee’s high-profile Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. His first attempt at film direction culminated in an Academy Award nomination. His second film, The Graduate (1967) proved to be an even greater success than Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Graduate earned him an Oscar for Best Director and a nomination for Best Picture.Smith asserts that The Graduate, arguably Nichols’ best film, was one of the first films to transform the movie-going experience in the late 1960s, causing audience members to come back for multiple viewings, which led to the creation of “The Film Generation.” The Graduate has become a “time-capsule movie,” that not only provides a historical account of a past generation and environment, but also allows for the fond reminiscence of the lifestyle and sentiments of the 1950s and 1960s. More importantly, The Graduate, according to Smith, “plugs us back into a moment in the consciousness of the American movie audience.” With The Graduate, Nichols exploits the relationship between the viewer and the screen. Viewers were suddenly forced to notice camera placement, shot duration, and the focal length of lenses through Nichols’ use of awkwardly long takes, deep setups with shallow fields of focus, purposely unfocused shots, and jarring editing. In stark contrast to the continuous editing techniques and realistic filmic styles of typical Hollywood directors, Nichols makes the audience aware of the camera and manipulates the audience’s view of the world. Nichols exploits time, space, and reality to illustrate his themes of paranoia, entrapment, emptiness, and superficiality. While Nichols has not made any other films that address the transition from boyhood into adulthood and his filmic styles and cinematic techniques have evolved, his work in The Graduate set a strong foundation for his future successes.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 N487
In Mike Nichols, H. Wayne Schuth traces the career of the world-renowned director through his sudden and spectacular rise to fame and his subsequent disappointments. Schuth notes the unusual nature of Nichols’ career, in that he was given the opportunity to direct a high-profile film without first having to put in any long, tedious years gaining experience in the film industry. With this initial film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Nichols was able to establish himself as a major film director. His next film, The Graduate, produced just one year later, made him a celebrity. While Schuth concentrates on the unique and extraordinary talent that Nichols possesses as a director, he also does not hesitate to focus on the films that Nichols has directed since his first two hits. While most authors tend to ignore or downplay the disappointing performances of films such as Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, and The Fortune, Schuth addresses these films head-on and explores why they were not well-received by audiences. Schuth looks at the poor performances of these three films in the context of Nichols’ celebrated work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Schuth not only considers the films themselves, but also what Nichols has said about his intentions with each of the films, to comprehensively compare and contrast the work that Nichols did on the different films.
The Graduate is arguably Nichols’ most successful film, so Schuth spends a great deal of time analyzing Nichols’ interpretation of the story and how he translated this interpretation cinematically. Schuth focuses on three elements—color, music, and visual motif—to examine Nichols’ intentions. These three elements are used both overtly and implicitly to symbolize different meanings and to convey or provoke various sentiments. Schuth presents many innovative and perceptive interpretations regarding the themes and relationships present in the film. For example, he perceives that the “idea that sex and love are separated, with sex destructive and love constructive” appears in the film. Schuth offers an in-depth analysis of the minute details of the film as well as the larger thematic aspects that bind the film as a whole.
In this article, Dave Tianen explores the difference between a good film and a good date film. Dating and movie-going are inextricably linked, and this association is one of the arguments used to explain why movie theaters will not become obsolete in the face of DVDs, the Internet, and other technological innovations. Tianen address the disparity in which Citizen Kane is the “perennial choice for greatest film of all time,” yet arguably one of the worst films to see on a date. There are no specific criteria for the “perfect date film” though numerous studies have been conducted to try to figure out what elements of a film make it a good date film and what aspects do not or have no bearing. According to this article, the American Film Institute conducted a study of critics in 2002 to determine the best movie romance and Casablanca was chosen as the best movie romance of all time. Alternatively, Harlequin Books recently conducted a study and polled entertainment and lifestyle editors on the ten most erotic movies of all time, in which 9 ½ Weeks was chosen as the sexiest film ever. In addition, Leslie Halpern compiles a list of the 100 best date movies based on her own first-hand research in her new book entitled Reel Romance: The Lover’s Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies. Halpern’s list does not include or even refer to Harlequin’s sexiest movie of all time, 9 ½ Weeks, demonstrating the level of ambiguity on this subject and the lack of objectivity. In fact, only two movies from Harlequin’s list are on Halpern’s Top 100 list. Tianen resolves this inconsistency by acknowledging that all such studies will inevitably have their own specific criteria and nuances.Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate does not appear on the AFI 100 Most Romantic Movies List, but surprisingly, it does appear on the Harlequin study. The Graduate ranked number nine for the sexiest movies of all time, according to Harlequin Books. This is somewhat remarkable because the love affair that propels The Graduate to the top of the Harlequin list is not between two young lovers, but rather between a much older married woman and a young, sexually inexperienced recent college graduate. Regardless of whether or not The Graduate is a good or bad date movie, or whether or not it truly is one of the sexiest movies of all time, the relationship between Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson has solidified itself as one of the greatest love affairs in film history.
This article, aptly titled “Movie Moms” begins with the statement, “‘M’ is for the many… movies about Mother” and addresses the roles that mothers play in Hollywood cinema. Diane Dudek recognizes that the role of the mother in film is often trivialized or stereotyped, which actually echoes real life, as many mothers feel that their role is taken for granted. Dudek acknowledges that countless portrayals of particular roles in film are stereotyped or at least shown inaccurately, and finds the role of the mother to be no exception. Dudek humorously states that mothers in film are typically the “epicenter of trauma, sacrifice, Prozac and Oedipal conflicts.” That being said, Dudek sees the lack of variety in the role of mothers in film to be improving. This can be attributed to the increasing variety in the roles of women, and therefore mothers, in real life; however, mothers in film are now taking on roles of the female equivalent of classic aggressive and violent male prototypes. Examples of this role include Meryl Streep’s character in The River Wild and Jamie Lee Curtis in Mother’s Boys. Dudek includes quotes from Phyllis Threinen, the founder of the Call Mom Line, a support group for women, and Susan Martin, “keeper” of the Moms-At-Home website, to provide further evidence for the disparity between the role of mothers in society and how they are portrayed in film.
Dudek organizes the role of mothers in film into six categories: Saintly Moms, Vengeful Moms, Stage Moms, Oedipal Moms, Mothers & Daughters, and Miscellaneous Moms. Dudek provides numerous examples of films that portray mothers in all six of these categories. She uses the example of Mrs. Robinson, from Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, as the epitome for Oedipal Moms. Though there are two mothers portrayed in The Graduate, and Mrs. Robinson is not actually Benjamin’s mother, Dudek argues that she serves as a “mother surrogate.” One might argue that Benjamin’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson is one between lovers and not a mother/son relationship; however, even when they have been sleeping together for a long period of time, Benjamin still refers to her as Mrs. Robinson, solidifying her role as an elder. The development of Benjamin’s relationship with Elaine, in which Mrs. Robinson truly is the biological mother figure, further contributes to Mrs. Robinson’s role as a mother surrogate.
NPR’s Don Lee offers a fact-based analysis of the behind-the-scenes events and decisions that led to the creation of a movie that has become a cultural icon. Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was the top-grossing film of 1968, garnered seven Academy Award nominations, introduced “one of the most recognizable soundtracks in movie history,” and helped to launch the careers of Mike Nichols, Buck Henry, and Dustin Hoffman. Lee explores the differences between The Graduate, the film, and The Graduate, the book. Charles Webb published the novel in 1963, which producer Lawrence Turman read and decided to make into a movie. Turman, along with screenwriter Buck Henry and director Mike Nichols, remained extremely faithful to the novel, with the exception of two significant adaptations. First of all, Turman and Nichols decided to cast the Braddocks as dark-haired and more ethnic-looking, rather than as the WASP-y blonde characters from the novel. Secondly, in the film, Benjamin dramatically crashes Elaine’s wedding only to find that she has already exchanged vows and is officially married. This does not stop Elaine from running off with Benjamin after they lock her family and the rest of the guests in the church, showing their rejection of the restraints of traditional values. In the book, however, Benjamin arrives at the wedding before she has said her vows, and they run off together in a much less controversial and less shocking fashion. According to Lee, Nichols can be credited with this bold modification.The original novel obviously deals with the generation gap, but Henry’s screenplay combined with Nichols’ astute directing skills allow for a brutally honest depiction of the relationship between adults and their children, which resonated strongly in the social context of the late 1960s. The widening generation gap was reaching new levels as children were searching for additional ways to distance themselves from the control and influence of their parents. Lee includes a quote from Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex’n’Drugs’n’Rock’n’Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, which articulates the main theme of the film: “the adult world is artificial, is superficial, on some level immoral and irrelevant to the concerns of young people.” It is this theme in conjunction with Henry and Nichols’ ability to capture the essence of the generation gap that propelled this film to number seven on The American Film Institute’s list of the greatest films of the century.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN2285 .N25 2003
In his novel Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Gerald Nachman provides a thorough review and assessment of some of the greatest comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. The book is divided into chapters dedicated solely to a specific comedian or team of comedians. These notable figures range from Mort Sahl and Tom Lehrer in the 1950s to Bob Newhart and Woody Allen in the 1960s. Nachman gives intimate accounts of how these comedians came to fame and the events and people that inspired them. Each chapter goes into painstaking detail about the comedians’ childhoods, families, and educations. The book is filled not only with evocative quotes from the comedians themselves, but also from those who had close relations with these individuals.
In the chapter entitled “Double Jeopardy,” Nachman contemplates the careers and lives of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, arguably one of the greatest comedic teams of all time. Nichols and May were a product of the Compass Players in Chicago, which has produced many of the world’s most prominent writers and comedians. They dominated the American comedic stage for four years until their sudden breakup in 1961. Despite the brevity of their four year stint, the plays that they wrote, directed, and acted in transformed American comedy. Nachman states that they are “perhaps the most ardently missed of all the satirical comedians of their era” (319). According to Nichols’ ex-agent, the breakup with May drove him into a “state of depression… he really wasn’t functioning” (351). Despite the profound psychological effects of the breakup, the two recovered and went on to develop their individual careers. While May continued to write comedies, Nichols focused on directing. Nichols’ first two films, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967) were major hits and secured him a role as one of Hollywood’s leading directors. The Graduate won Nichols an Academy Award for Best Director and a nomination for Best Picture. Though May’s career has not been as celebrated as Nichols’, the two reunited in 1996 when Nichols directed The Birdcage, which May adapted from the play La Cage aux Folles. Nachman provides a deeply personal and thorough account of the stunning and influential comedic duo of Nichols and May.
In this article, Karen Lurie acknowledges the wide array of interpretations of The Graduate (1967) ranging from a sex farce to a generation gap comedy to a “ballad of alienation and rebellion.” These different interpretations affect the way in which viewers receive and react to the elements of the film itself. Lurie offers a plot summary and touches briefly on a number of the themes and symbols that permeate the film. After this hasty plot summary, Lurie delves into a more critical analysis and assessment of the film, mostly concentrating on its ending and the meanings that viewers impose upon this ending. Lurie argues that the widely accepted view of The Graduate as having a happy ending is forced upon the film by those who are determined to make it a romantic comedy. The way in which Benjamin and Elaine flee the suburban life that they have been restricted by further contributes to the cursory assumption that the ending implies happiness and triumph, but the final scene is actually much more profound and ambiguous. As Benjamin and Elaine sit on the bus driving away from the church, their smiles become forced and then disappear altogether. They do not say a word to one another as the lyrics of Paul Simon’s song “Sounds of Silences” fills the air, “Hello darkness, my old friend…” If one were to critically assess their relationship, though they claim to be in love, Benjamin and Elaine barely know each other. They do not have the support of their families and Benjamin does not have a job. With Paul Simon’s “darkness” foreshadowing a dark future, the ending is not one of bliss and contentment as so many viewers mistakenly believe.Another misconception that Lurie addresses is the view of Benjamin as the figure that is rebelling against the status quo, when actually, Lurie argues, it is Mrs. Robinson. Benjamin seems to enjoy and make use of the very culture that he is supposed to be rebelling against. He is closely associated with his new flashy Alfa Romeo, a graduation present from his parents, and his parent’s swimming pool. Both the car and the pool represent the materialism and superficiality that he supposedly fears and despises. In addition, Benjamin ends up with Elaine, the girl that his parents chose for him. Mrs. Robinson is the true rebel, refusing to accept her submissive role in the patriarchal suburban family and demonstrating her sexuality, confidence, and power.
The first major inconsistency deals with the overall nature of the movie. Simon argues that the film starts out as an “outrageous comedy” and then in the middle suddenly changes gears and becomes a “sentimental near-drama.” Simon considers this abrupt change of tone and genre to be a major flaw. Simon presents the counterargument for this assertion, in which many argue that the two tones—the comedic and the dramatic—are intertwined in varying amounts throughout the entire film. Furthermore, this counterargument contends that Benjamin’s true love for Elaine changes him and justifies the shift to a more romantic, serious tone. Simon responds to that counter by arguing that it is not so much the change in tone that mandates the inconsistency, but the change in the overall nature of a character. Benjamin’s apparent transformation from a “nonstop fumbler” to a “master sleuth” is unwarranted and unrealistic. It is this inconsistency of character, along with the other six aforementioned weaknesses, by which Simon considers The Graduate an ultimate disappointment. In addition to these grand thematic inconsistencies, Simon finds multiple relatively trivial inconsistencies throughout the film. The most obvious of which is Benjamin’s tendency to continue using Mrs. when he speaks to Mrs. Robinson in spite of the fact that they have been engaging in a sexual relationship for a long period of time. While Simon regards this to be an inconsistency, many viewers would argue that Benjamin calling her Mrs. Robinson reveals the fundamental nature of their relationship.