Schuth, H. Wayne. Mike Nichols. Boston : Twayne Publishers, 1978.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 N487
In this dense biography of director Mike Nichols, H. Wayne Schuth presents an encompassing analysis of The Graduate. Rather than discussing the acting and production, Schuth focuses on symbolism and meaning of various aspects of the movie. His analysis focuses mainly on music, color, and visual motif, as well as a deep understanding of the protagonist Benjamin Braddock. Schuth states that color represents characters' personalities, the quality of their environment, or a connection between the two. The color white represents the cold, sterile, dull, and meaningless values of Benjamin's parents' generation. Yellow or gold represents affluence or cowardice, like in Benjamin's college tie. The color brown represents a strong connection between Benjamin and Elaine who both wear brown coats to protect themselves from their parents' values. Red, the color of Bejamin's Alfa Romeo sportscar and the predominant hue in the strip club scene, is a symbol of sex. Elaine's pink room and clothing represents her feminine innocence. The film's soundtrack serves as a "part of action from a logical source", like when Mrs. Robinson plays Latin music when trying to seduce Benjamin, or as a Greek Chorus, when the lyrics to "April Come She Will" explains the duration of the relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson.
Schuth's evaluation of visual motifs is truly astonishing. He states that visual motifs are objects that appear throughout the movie to give it unity. From the opening scene, Benjamin is on the plane as the pilot states that they will "begin their descent to Los Angeles." Benjamin is unhappy to be returning to LA and starting a new chapter in his life. In the next scene he refuses to go downstairs to meet his family's houseguests. He simply wants to remain in between college and finding a job, and here that is high somewhere - whether in the airplane or in his bedroom. Schuth also describes how Mrs. Robinson always wears animal skin clothing to show her dominance and predatory personality towards Benjamin. Another important aspect of the movie is Benjamin's point of view. From the scene in which the viewer sees Mrs. Robinson naked from Benjamin's point of view, the rest of the movie is in this perspective. The audience is able to relate to Benjamin as he faces adversity throughout the movie. Schuth also provides connections between scenes, such as Benjamin being wet in a black diving suit and Mrs. Robinson being wet in a black raincoat. They are both drowning at these points in their lives.
Farber, Stephen, and Estelle Changas. "The Graduate." Film Quarterly 21 (1968): 37-41. JSTOR. UPenn, Philadelphia. 8 Apr. 2008. Keyword: charles webb graduate.
In this film review of The Graduate, Farber and Changas offer criticism that I have never seen before. Not only do they offer different opinions of the film and its characters, but they also misinterpret symbols. This makes the review interesting to read but not very helpful to someone who hasn't seen the movie. The authors note that after 1960s counterculture films with "teenyboppers and acid heads, The Graduate...tells it like it is." Although Benjamin Braddock is a champion debater, they notice that throughout the movie he has trouble forming simple sentences when talking to adults. The "phoniness of suburban society" permeates the film. The intuitive soundtrack leads us to think that the film contains the same insight as Simon and Garfunkel, but Benjamin cannot even think the same way. They see him as "stupid and awkward, not sensitive and alienated." They also see comedy in the scene where he sees Mrs. Robinson naked as opposed to the serious introspection that these shots give the viewer. To them Ben is insensitive to Mrs. Robinson, and a very shallow character. As far as symbolism goes, the colors black and white are more of a "coloring-book morality play" instead of symbols of the cold values of one society and rebellious values of the other. This use of colors is "a cheap dramatic trick" to discern the two generations. Another interesting criticism of the authors is that they find Nichols inexperienced in filmmaking. The lack of a love story and absence of sexual scenes is a failure in their eyes.
One criticism that actually manifests one of Nichols' arguments is that the young characters in the movie act too maturely. The critics state that the film "is an insult to young people who aren't so goody-goody." The truth is that the young people are only mature and "goody-goody" because their parents' generation makes them this way. Their value system makes the youth appear and act this way although they are dying to do things differently. Another bad criticism is how they find the scuba diving scene too "self-conscious." The truth is that the critics don't have the intelligence to understand or mention the significance of drowning, unlike Schuth. Nichols certainly knew what he was doing, even though Farber and Changas think otherwise.
Bodroghkozy, Aniko. "Reel Revolutionaries: an Examination of Hollywood's Cycle of 1960s Youth Rebellion Films." Cinema Journal 41 (2002): 38-58. JSTOR. UPenn, Philadelphia. 8 Apr. 2008. Keyword: 1960s counterculture culture america hippie.
This article explains how studios in the 1960s attempted to attract young moviegoers (18-30 year olds) by making films about campus activism and youth protest. Author Aniko Bodroghkozy discusses how these films represented campus turmoil, the radicalization of young people, and the violence associated with student rebellion. Cinema audiences were dwindling in the 1960s, mostly due to the demise of the family audience. The expansion of suburban America was keeping the family away from the movies and opting for other enterainment such as television and recreation. MGM was one of the first studios to attempt to bring the youth back to the box office. Louis Polk became president of MGM in 1968 and recognized this problem in the industry. Joseph Levine, head of Avco Embassy Productions, called these youth-oriented films "nonconformist cinema." The Graduate had been wonderfully successful for Embassy. Unlike Levine, some film industry executives were uncomfortable with the antiestablishment views, politics, and values associated with these films and thought they would hinder international sales. Directors and producers were able to frame these rebellious movies by focusing on the main characters instead of the radical mobs. Films such as The Strawberry Statement and Getting Straight were about campus uprisings, but their creators framed them as films about individuals having identity crises in the midst of rebellious college campuses.
Nevertheless, there was certainly a conflict between the revolutionary youth politics and mainstream American culture that had to be addressed. The Graduate was revolutionary in that it addressed this chasm in a subtle way. Rather than focusing on the rebellious protests and political rallies that personify the 1960s, Nichols' masterpiece simply portrayed one young man's questioning of his parent's values. Despite his preppy wardrobe, Benjamin Braddock represents the youth counterculture of the 1960s. His parents, always talking down to him and asking about his plans, represent the American society that the 1960s youth generation absolutely cannot stand. At a time when other studios were trying to appeal to college age audiences, MGM was ahead of its time and succeeded with The Graduate.
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1963. 150-181.
Call#: HQ1420 .F7
In The Feminine Mystique, author Judy Friedan uses a feminist lens to evaluate the woman's role in the twentieth century. The chapter entitled "The Sex-directed Educators" focuses on women in American colleges and universities in the 1950's and 60's. Friedan finds that although more women are attending college than ever before, fewer are actually pursuing careers that require "more than a casual commitment." Two out of three women are dropping out of college, and the end of the all-women university is in the near future. Friedan and other sociologists attribute this phenomenon to the woman's need to act and appear feminine, get married, have children, and raise a family. Certain schools were "not educating women to be scholars; [they] are educating them to be wives and mothers."
In an intense scene in The Graduate when Benjamin demands he and Mrs. Robinson converse before making love, he asks about her past and how she started her family. She reveals that she and Mr. Robinson met in college while she was majoring in Art. However, she became impregnated and had to leave school in order to take care of Elaine, her daughter. Mrs. Robinson's life is now very dull as a housewife. Similar to the women described in Friedan's book, Mrs. Robinson is very passive and never finished her degree in college. It's unclear whether or not she wanted to be independent in life; however, she never even had the chance. This part of Mrs. Robinson's character perhaps gives some insight to her predatory nature late in life.
Gehring, Wes D. American Dark Comedy: Beyond Satire. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1996. 1-14.
Call#: PN1995.9.C55 G42 1996
In this wonderful book, Wes Gehring analyzes dark comedy as a genre in both literature and comedy as well as film. He defines black humor as a "genre of comic irreverance that flippantly attacks what are normally society's most sacredly serious subjects - especially death." He notes that comedy's ability to personalize in the viewer a mixture of conflicting emotions is meant to reflect the on-the-edge absurdity of modern life. Comedian Dave Barry is quoted as saying that humor is based in "the fear that the world is not very sane or reliable or organized and that it's not controlled by responsible people. Anything can happen to you, and it could be bad, and you have no say in it." The author states that dark comedy as a genre is still considered more of a post-1960s phenomenon. Black humor became an aspect of the libertarian, idol-shattering side of the sixties. He also notes that dark humor is a mostly American genre - American writers on the whole appear to be more articulate about it, and American audiences more susceptible to the form.
The Graduate is certainly a dark comedy due to its plot about a young man having an affair with a married woman yet still providing comic relief despite the grave topics involved. Dustin Hoffman's awkward yet lovable character is hilarious in that he is much too young and inexperienced to know what is going on in the affair. Various times in the movie writers Buck Henry and Charles Webb provide comic answers on behalf of Benjamin Braddock to serious questions. For example, when Benjamin describes his plan to marry a girl whom he has neither asked yet or even likes him, he states "No, dad, I think [the idea] is completely baked." Also, in an intense scene when Mrs. Robinson asks Ben if he finds her attractive, he replies "I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends." Finally, director Mike Nichols uses various funny scenes to address serious issues. When Benjamin's parents make him scuba dive in their backyard pool, everyone is smiling and cheering while Benjamin is drifting in the water totally dissatisfied with his present and his future. The Graduate is a fine example of 1960s dark comedy.
Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1968. 217-218.
Call#: PN1993.5.U6 S3
In his critical assessment of directors and their pictures in the sound era, Andrew Sarris focuses on directors' ability to totally control a motion picture and manifest their artistic and stylistic ability. He calls this auteur theory. A director is like an author writing a novel - he has complete creative license and direction to create the various characters, setting, tone, and mood of the film. Sarris states that "everything Mike Nichols has touched on stage and screen has turned to gold, if not glory." He says that Nichols' film Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? preened itself on its honesty. At that time Nichols was trying to bring a subtlety to Hollywood, and he "trascended The Graduate." The actors in the movie had "little marquee value", and Charles Webb's novel on which the movie is based was not well-known. Nichols' neat and eclectic style is what made the film so successful. He is considered to be more a tactician than a strategist. It should also be noted that Nichols is mentioned in other directors' pieces in the book. He is compared to Frances Ford Coppola in his entry. It's clear that Sarris has great respect for Nichols and recognizes him as an auteur.
Throughout The Graduate, it's clear that Nichols has complete control over the film's production. There are many scenes that are extremely creative and very different than what most people were used to seeing in the 1960s. For example, the film begins with Benjamin Braddock's flight home to Los Angeles. He is shown sitting lazily on the plane listening to the monotonous voice of the pilot describing the weather. This scene, both unique and simple, is proof of Nichols' control over the characters and the setting of the film.
Jackson, Laura. Paul Simon: the Definitive Biography. London: Judy Piatkus Limited, 2002. 103-119.
Call#: ML420.S563 J33 2002
In this wonderful biography of American musician Paul Simon, author Laura Jackson analyzes the artist's entire life and its influence on the music that he made. In the chapter entitled "Flying High", Jackson discusses The Graduate Soundtrack and its impact on the music scene of that time. The soundtrack was unbelievably successful for both the movie and the duo Simon and Garfunkel. As an album it was #1 in the U.S. and #3 in Great Britain. Also, Mrs. Robinson was the #1 single in the states. For four months the #1 album in the U.S. was either the soundtrack or Bookends, the group's following album. She notes that The Graduate was one of the first major movies to have a totally Rock and Roll soundtrack. The album Bookends was innovative in that it was one of the first to use multi-tracking vocals. Jackson notes that critics had always noticed Simon's affinity for writing introspectively about alienation. Professor Iwan Morgan states that "Many of Paul Simon's 1960s' songs have a sense of alienation and loss of identity with the values that American kids had been taught to respect...For the college-educated segment of the 1960s generation this was a result of their alienation from their parents' values of material gain, personal advancement in the workplace and a hierarchically structured society."
With Paul Simon's peculiar personality and his ability to transfer that to his music, he was a perfect choice to score The Graduate. Benjamin Braddock's character is exactly like Simon in that he feels a loss of identity with his parent's generation. While they expect him to find a job immediately after college he prefers to relax and drink beer next to the pool. He also rejects their common institutions and values of marriage by sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, who is both a married woman and a friend of his parents. Paul Simon's unique view on life and alienation from society is exactly what Benjamin Braddock is trying to show the viewer.
Widerman, Michael W. "Extramarital Sex: Prevalence and Correlates in a National Survey." The Journal of Sex Research 34 (1997):167-174. JSTOR. UPenn, Philadelphia. 7 Apr. 2008. Keyword: effects of extramarital sex.
Michael Wiederman has put together a thorough survey of extramarital sex among married Americans. What's interesting about this survey is that he prefaces it by giving the different results of various other surveys that have been conducted throughout various times in the twentieth century. In a 1948 survey sociologists found that one-third of men and one-fifth of women have had extramarital sex. A recent survey in 1990 showed that that number had climbed to one-half for men and almost the same for women. 1.5% of those surveyed admitted to having extramarital sex in the past year. Wiederman notes that a problem with these surveys is people's honesty or lack thereof in answering questions. For example, when a spouse is in the room with someone taking a survey the person is much more likely to lie about having an extramarital affair. The same result occurs when a random stranger is in the same room as someone taking the survey. A 1994 phone survey showed that 19% of men and 15% of women have had extramarital sex. For men, the incidence of extramarital sex was pretty constant throughout the span of their lives (e.g. 60 year olds had as much extramarital sex as 20 year olds). However, for women the incidence peaked around the age of 40. Black and Hispanic women had noticably higher rates than white women. Men are much more likely than women to have an extramarital affair. Thus, Wiederman's own findings that 21% of men and 11% of women have had extramarital sex is not far from any data already collected. Additionally, he found that men peaked at 60-69 years of age (34%) and women peaked at 40-49 years (19.3%).
This survey is relevant to The Graduate because of Mrs. Robinson's seemingly endless desire to sleep with Benjamin Braddock. She is certainly somewhere around 40 years old since actress Anne Bancroft was 37 when the movie was released. The affair between her and Benjamin is the pillar on which the entire movie is founded. If it weren't for this affair Mike Nichols' commentary on society's unrest in the 1960s would be much too mainstream and blatantly obvious. The affair between a suburban socialite and young college graduate is an unlikely storyline, yet Nichols was able to produce a meaningful social commentary with a unique set of circumstances.
Depalma, Anthony. "With Jobs Scarce, Many Turn to Graduate School." New York Times 3 July 1991. 7 Apr. 2008 .
In this New York Times article, Anthony DePalma describes an economy in which jobs for newly graduated students are scarce and few in between. As a result, many college graduates are opting for graduate school. The students recently graduated are well aware of the scarcity in the labor market and know that finding a job after college would not be easy. Job recruiters are hiring almost half as many workers as they thought they would. Thus, graduate school applications are up by 20% in the largest 430 institutions that offer graduate programs. Graduate admissions directors know that during a poor economic period, it's common for graduate school applications to increase. However, they will only be able to accept 2% more applicants than in previous years. Another problem is that less financial aid will be available because of budget constraints and cuts due to the bad economy.
In The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock graduated from a prestigious school in the Northeast with a stellar record that includes being editor of the school paper for two years and captain of the track team. Despite these achievements, he is without a job come graduation. His father recognizes this problem and urges him to apply to graduate school and become a doctor or lawyer. While the status of the economy is not mentioned in the movie, Mr. Braddock realizes that his son is wasting his talent by sitting beside the pool each day. On another note, by not getting a job Benjamin is refusing to conform to the social norms of his day. Although his father wants him to get a job or attend graduate school, Benjamin doesn't want to do either.
Barr, Damian. "Crying on the Inside." The Times 1 May 2004. 6 Apr. 2008 .
In this Times article, Damian Barr describes a phenomenon he refers to as the quarterlife crisis. The quarterlife crisis is similar to the midlife crisis in that people feel like they don't know what they are doing with their lives. The article describes twentysomethings living in London and realizing that the 20s are not what they're supposed to be. Most people in their 20s are stuck with a future-free job, debt from college, alleged friends, and a non-existent love partner. The excitement of graduation from college has faded and a life of work and no play lies ahead. Getting and keeping your life together has never been harder. Fighting for jobs and keeping strong relationships can be very stressful. Approximately one-third of all people in their 20s are depressed, and there aren't any psychiatrists who are experts on the quarterlife crisis, unlike those who have studied the midlife crisis. Additionally, there are people who say that the quarterlife crisis doesn't exist, just how people said that the midlife crisis and menopause didn't exist. Most 20 year olds are convinced that others are having better sex and taking better drugs than they are. The truth is that the 20s are bigger, scarier, and harder than people thought, and hardly anyone is talking about it.
In The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock has graduated from college and comes home to sunny California without a job or any idea of what he wants to do in the future. From the beginning of the movie the viewer is aware that Benjamin is worried and distraught about this transition period in his life. In his first lines in the movie, he asks his father "to be alone for a while" although there are numerous guests downstairs waiting to congratulate him on his graduation and awards. Rather than be productive and look for a job, he chooses to drive around aimlessly and sit beside the pool all day. He doesn't have any friends at home and is worried about his future. He is definitely suffering from a quarterlife crisis.