I didn’t see this movie when it came out. (I was eleven; the content would have been considered too mature.) So maybe the first time I saw it was in college, when it seemed dated. Why was Benjamin so passive? The obsession with marriage: what was that about? Even the Simon and Garfunkel songs felt old. All that wistful harmonizing about herbs, and those koo koo ka choo’s. Embarrassing.
Sometime in the 1980s I saw “The Graduate” again. By then, it had become a classic and I approached it in that spirit. I couldn’t wait to hear the famous line, spoken by one of the Dustin Hoffman character’s parents’ friends, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics.” I recognized the famous shot where Hoffman is framed by Anne Bancroft’s leg. And the scene where you see Hoffman high up in the church window, hands outstretched like he’s being crucified. So symbolic, you know?
This time around, I watched it as a period piece. How sad that time seems to me now. There’s Anne Bancroft, all of thirty-five when she made the picture, a beautiful woman playing a washed-up housewife. She’s got no life, admits she’s an alcoholic, is messing up her daughter while having meaningless sex with a boy barely out of his teens. We’ve come a long way, baby!
As for Hoffman’s character, how vapid can you get? There he is, confused, alienated. An award-winning student at a prestigious east coast school, managing editor of his college newspaper, who has no interest in anything but himself. Really, you’d hardly know there was a war in Vietnam, or that the battle over civil rights was still raging in America during the period when the film is set. Katharine Ross’s character is a student at Berkeley. We see Hoffman’s character looking for her on the campus, hanging around in bookstores and coffee shops. Wasn’t Berkeley a hotbed of student activism in 1967?
At one point, Hoffman’s character tries to explain to Ross’s character why he’s confused and alienated. “It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
Sheesh, get a life!
(26 April 2011)