#17 – The Graduate
Sure, today I may be the infallible Pope of Film, but at 11 I was at a low point in my life that I thought would never end. This movie made me feel better—it showed me that tough situations could be overcome, and that the approbation of one’s parents need not be the end of the world. I am convinced that millions of people have seen this movie and found similar reasons to relate. Thanks, The Graduate.
Apostle Patrick and I once recorded a podcast on The Graduate—one of my “Top Ten” favorites we’ve ever done. When I began my tenure as a high school Film Studies teacher, there was no such thing as a podcast! So imagine how strange it was when one year, tired of assigning the same old critical essay on The Graduate to my classes, I began to assign listening to the podcast as a homework assignment. This was either the height of lunacy or the height of vanity. I was surprised how many of them wouldn’t do it – they couldn’t even invest an hour. And this is a movie they like!
My students, who are mostly seniors, see the film very differently than I did on that fateful Wednesday when I was only 11. They're just about to hit the epoch that Benjamin experiences in the film: graduation, and the “what now” that inevitably comes right after. Benjamin has no idea what to do with the rest of his life; my students, too, are largely without a clue, beginning the transition into adult life with no clear path. I prescribe watching this film as the antidote to the tragic and paralyzing ennui that everyone faces during such a time.
One cannot talk about The Graduate without talking about its musical score, which was groundbreaking for its time. Instead of hiring a standard composer to write a standard movie score, director Mike Nichols used already existing music from the catalog of Simon & Garfunkel, a then-popular folk duo. Nichols convinced them to write a couple of new songs for the movie, but didn’t like any of the songs the duo presented. However, Paul Simon had been working on a song called “Mrs. Roosevelt;” they changed the lyric to “Mrs. Robinson” and sang what they had for Nichols, who loved it. The song was a radio hit and became emblematic of the movie. I bet most of you have heard it, and may have formed the (mistaken) opinion that The Graduate features a surprise cameo from Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees.
The Graduate’s Three Miracles: Dustin Hoffman’s understated, hilarious performance, which anchors the whole enterprise; Nichols’s “Let’s Try This and See If It Works” direction, which still seems fresh and unexpected almost fifty years later; and Simon & Garfunkel’s score, which is lovely, haunting, and delightful, even given that one song is repeated three times.
“In Nomine Nichols, et Hoffman, y spiritu Webb… Amen.”