Film / The Graduate

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"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics."

This 1967 comedy-drama film, directed by Mike Nichols and based on Charles Webb's novel of the same title, is famous for being the first "serious" movie to be specifically targeted at the Baby Boomer generation, for prominently featuring Simon & Garfunkel music (most memorably the toe-tapper "Mrs. Robinson"), and for skyrocketing Dustin Hoffman to fame. It also contains many extremely memorable and oft-parodied scenes and lines (particularly, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me" and the climax where Ben rescues Elaine from her wedding).

Disaffected college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman), having no idea what to do with his life and receiving no guidance from his shallow parents or their shallow friends, passes his days drifting aimlessly. He begins a clandestine affair with the wife (Anne Bancroft) of his father's business partner, who is always "Mrs. Robinson" to him. However, his parents have plans to match him up with Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). Ben and Mrs. Robinson both detest the idea for different reasons, and he has every intention of making Elaine hate him as much as possible... until the two hit it off.

William Daniels plays Ben's father, Mr. Braddock, who delivers the famous "plastics" quote. Richard Dreyfuss briefly appears in one of his first film roles; he has one line.

The book has a sequel, Home School, published 40 years after the release of the movie due to copyright issues.


"Just one word: Tropes.":

  • Abusive Parents: A somewhat uncommon take on this trope: Elaine's, and to a lesser extent Ben's, parents basically want to control the lives of their children, despite the latter being adults. This fits into the movie's broader theme of a confused youth exploited and betrayed by a cynical, corrupt older generation.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: In the book, Ben is quite handsome, which makes Mrs. Robinson seem a good deal less desperate. In fact, Ben's awkwardness in general is artistic license by Nichols and Hoffman; Ben's character in the book is a prototypical Aryan goodboy athlete brimming with confidence and charisma (Robert Redford was the original choice to play the role). Dustin Hoffman's short stature, darker features, awkward clumsiness and insecurity (of which the affair with Mrs. Robinson is the chief catalyst in ridding him) are not present in the book.
  • Adults Are Useless: Ben's parents, specifically.
  • Affably Evil: Mrs. Robinson, who seduces Ben and calls the police on him later, but she retains her high-class cordiality.
  • The Alcoholic: While seducing Ben, Mrs. Robinson tells him she's one of these.
  • Alliterative Name: Benjamin Braddock.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Benjamin has little social ability and little motivation to take part in society, largely due to the overbearing presences of the adults in his life. He was an outstanding student and athletenote , and his parents and their friends all adore him. He still has no friends and no idea what he wants to do with his life - after all, he prefers lying in his parents' swimming pool to going out into the Real World™.
  • Ambiguous Ending/Bittersweet Ending: The film ends on a rather ambiguous note, leaving the viewer to wonder whether Benjamin and Elaine will live Happily Ever After or are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents and get caught in a loveless marriage.
    • The sequel of the book, Home School, shows them as having a difficult but still consistent life with two kids.
  • And Then What?: Their face at the ending suggests this is what happens between Ben and Elaine after they rebelled, and then they look down.
  • Auto Erotica: Mrs. Robinson tells Ben that Elaine was conceived in a Ford.
  • Beneath the Mask: Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, when Benjamin crashes Elaine's wedding. Seeing their snarling, bestial faces during Benjamin's hammering on the window is what tips Elaine over and makes her cry out to Ben.
  • Betty and Veronica: An odd but fairly well-done contrast between Mrs. Robinson and her daughter, Elaine.
  • Between My Legs: One of the most famous shots in cinema history.
  • Big Bad: Mrs. Robinson.
  • Big Heroic Run: The ending involves a lot of running.
  • Big Word Shout: "ELAAAAIIIIIINE!"
  • Broken Bird: Mrs. Robinson is a lonely, depressed, alcoholic housewife. Just try not to pity her with her tragic expression when she confesses her major was art. She had to give up on her dreams when she got pregnant and married young, and she'd be the most sympathetic character in the story if not for the fact she apparently feels that since she had to suffer a Shotgun Wedding because of her daughter, then she should force her daughter to have one too.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The film's mood gets a bit more serious once Elaine discovers her mother's "relationship" with Ben.
  • Character Tics: That little sound Ben makes in the back of his throat when he's nervous.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: It's mentioned at his graduation party that Ben was captain of the track team in college. Golly, I wonder if he'll have to do some running later...
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The film is about Benjamin trying to find himself and escape the suburban ennui that his parents and his girlfriend's parents have found themselves in. He more or less fails.
  • Cool Car: The Alfa Romeo Spider, which became so associated with the movie that in later years there was a trim level called "Graduate".
  • Creator Cameo: Buck Henry, who co-wrote the film's screenplay, appears as the hotel desk clerk.
  • Cringe Comedy: A whole lot of it for Ben.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs. Robinson shows signs of this, especially in the scene where Ben tries to find Elaine at the house but she isn't there.
  • Disposable Fiancé: That blond kid. Elaine was actually already married to him, but he was still pretty disposable in the end.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Ben does this toward the end, during that Berkeley-to-Pasadena-to-Berkeley-to-Santa Barbara shuttle.note 
    • Not to mention his first date with Elaine.
      Elaine: Do you always drive like this?
      Ben: Yes!
  • Dull Surprise: Everyone in the film save Mrs. Robinson. But in this case, it's deliberate.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Deconstructed. Ben and Elaine both fought desperately to be with each other, and once they finally do and make their get away, they slowly realize And Then What?, pointing out that it may have been all for nothing.
  • False Rape Accusation: While confronting Ben in Berkeley, Elaine says that her mother made one of these against him after their affair was discovered.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: The film becomes less comedic after Elaine learns of Ben's affair with her mother.
  • Flat "What.": Practically Ben's Catch Phrase
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Mrs. Robinson first informs him of her sexual attraction (and availability) to him in Elaine's room, there are very brief flashes of her nude body.
  • Generation Xerox: In the final scene, according to Word of God, this is what Ben and Elaine are realizing will eventually happen to them.
  • Get Out:
    • Elaine screams this at Ben after realizing that the older woman he had mentioned sleeping with was her mother.
    • Also Mr. McCleery, after one too many disturbances caused by Ben.
  • "The Graduate" Homage Shot: Yes, former Trope Namer Elaine. Also one of the most famous scenes in movie history. Highly reminiscent of the ending to 1924 Harold Lloyd comedy Girl Shy.
  • Head Desk: Benjamin does an "I can't believe I'm doing this" variant against a hotel room wall just before he sleeps with Mrs. Robinson for the first time.
  • Hot And Cold: Mrs. Robinson, towards the beginning of the film.
  • I'll Kill You!: Mr. Robinson, during Ben's wedding crash.
  • Instant Seduction: Famously averted. Despite her good looks (and him being rather plain and heavily implied to be a virgin) Mrs. Robinson has to practically throw herself at Ben before he gets the idea, and then he runs off all scandalized. When he does agree to get a hotel room with her, he worries what his parents would think if they found out, is generally horribly nervous, and has to be talked into it again.
  • Jerkass Façade: Adopted by Ben on his first date with Elaine.
  • Jump Scare: Ben finding Mr. Robinson waiting for him inside his Berkeley apartment jolts him from his happy mood and causes him to scream mid-whistle.
  • Kafka Komedy: The entire plot is a Kafka Komedy since any and all actions he makes are against authority figures but he never intends to do anything bad. He begins the movie loved by those around him and by the end of the movie he's despised by almost everyone who once liked him.
  • Karma Houdini: Mrs. Robinson, save for getting slapped by Elaine during the wedding crash. On the other hand, her husband does tell Ben that they're going to get a divorce (which, given the era, will most likely make her into a pariah among their social circle). And she's presumably lost her daughter's love and affection forever.
  • Kavorka Man: Ben is plain, awkward, unemployed, with no prospects or ambition for getting them. And yet a mother and daughter fight over and both throw their lives away for him. (Even Dustin Hoffman, during his audition, thought it was unlikely.)
  • Lady Drunk: Mrs. Robinson, of course.
  • Landlord: Mr. McCleery, who runs the rooming house Ben stays at in Berkeley. He's played by Norman Fell, who a decade later would achieve great popularity on TV as a different landlord character: Mr. Roper.
  • Last Name Basis:
    • Mrs. Robinson's first name is never revealed. Fridge Brilliance when you realize that she really is nothing more than Mr. Robinson's wife.
    • For that matter, we never learn Mr. Robinson's first name, or those of Ben's parents.
  • Leave the Camera Running: How long are they sitting on that bus, slowly realizing they have no idea what they will do next, having burned all their bridges behind them? Nichols literally left the camera running without warning the actors.
  • Like a Son to Me: Early in the film, Mr. Robinson has a heart-to-heart with Ben where he calls him this, and then offers him the fatherly advice to "sow a few wild oats, have a good time with the girls, and so forth". This, minutes after his wife has (unbeknownst to him) offered herself to Ben.
  • Love at First Sight: Ben and Elaine: one date which gets off to a very rocky start, then they share burgers and life stories in a drive-in restaurant, then some uncomfortable truths are aired, and months later he's still willing to drive up to Berkeley to chase after her. Hardly a day after they have an argument, they're talking about marriage, and their passion seems to go strong for the rest of the movie — not counting the last seven seconds. Granted Ben and Elaine fall for each other very quickly but its still not at first sight. Especially since its implied in an earlier scene that they knew each other before their date.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: Averted. Ben is quite shy and scandalized by the idea, and has to be talked into it. The woman in question was the wife of his father's business partner...
  • Manipulative Bitch: Mrs. Robinson. Once The Reveal is made and Ben tries to win back Elaine, he stumbles across Mrs. Robinson first, who explains that a) Elaine is arranged to be married, b) the ceremony is in a matter of days, and c) she's called the cops on him for breaking and entering. Gee, y'think maybe she doesn't want the two kids to get together?
  • Maybe Ever After: So, what happens to Ben and Elaine?
  • May–December Romance: Not exactly romance, but Mrs. Robinson wants to regain her youth, and Ben wants to sleep with her... at least till he falls for her daughter...
  • Mood Whiplash: The film is a satirical comedy up until the scene where Elaine discovers the truth about her mother and Ben. Things get considerably heavier then.
  • Mouthing the Profanity: When the wedding is crashed in the climax, Elaine's mother, father and almost-husband are clearly seen mouthing profanities.
  • Mrs. Robinson: The Trope Namer.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Robinson becomes a rather twisted version of this vis-à-vis Elaine.
  • No Romantic Resolution: While the romance is implied, some are of the opinion that the relationship is ultimately going to fail. Will it? Who knows, it doesn't tell us.
  • Now What?: At the end of the movie, after Benjamin rescues Elaine from her wedding and they flee on a bus, the camera holds on them for an uncomfortably long time, emphasizing the "now what?" nature of the ending. A play and a (separate) movie attempt to tell what happened right after the end and a generation later, respectively.
  • Of Course I'm Not A Virgin: Attempted and failed:
    Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin, is this your first time?
    Ben: Is this - what?
    Mrs. Robinson: It is, isn't it? It is your first time.
    Ben: That's a laugh, Mrs. Robinson. That's really a laugh. Ha ha.
    Mrs. Robinson: You can admit that, can't you?
    Ben: Are you kidding?
    Mrs. Robinson: It's nothing to be ashamed of -, etc.
  • Overprotective Dad: Mr. Robinson, when he finds out about Ben's escapades with Mrs. Robinson, turns ballistically hostile towards Ben:
    Mr. Robinson: All right, now listen to this. I don't know whether I can prosecute, but I think I can. I think I can get you behind bars if you ever look at my daughter again. Now, I've seen Elaine, and I've made damn sure you can't get to her. Stay away from me, Ben! I don't want to mince words with you. As far as Elaine is concerned, you're to get her out of your filthy mind right now! Is that perfectly clear to you? And that's all, Ben. You'll pardon me if I don't shake hands with you. I think you are filth. I think you are scum. You are a degenerate!
  • Perpetual Expression: Ben in the below mentioned montage. His expression changes maybe once.
  • Playing Gertrude: Anne Bancroft was 36 (only six years older than Dustin Hoffman) when this was made.
  • Please Dump Me: Benjamin, under orders from Mrs. Robinson, tries to get her daughter Elaine to lose interest in him by taking her to a strip club on a date.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: Ben spends the last portion of the movie running like hell to stop his beloved's wedding, basically power-jogging nonstop for ages with only a pause to make a phone call. Nicely led up to throughout the film with repeated mentions of Ben's position in college as captain of the track team.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used in the scuba-gear scene, along with Vader Breath.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Mr. Braddock confronts Ben about his failure to apply for graduate school:
    Mr. Braddock: Look, I think it's a very good thing that a young man, after he's done some very good work, should have a chance to relax and enjoy himself, lie around and drink beer and so on. But after a few weeks, I'd believe that person would want to take some stock in himself and his situation and start to think about getting off his ass!
  • Prelap: When Benjamin is in the bottom of a pool, but you hear him having a phone conversation with Mrs. Robinson in the following scene.
  • Race for Your Love: Ben, on his way to the wedding.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence". Also "Scarborough Fair" and "April Come She Will".
  • The Reveal: When Elaine finds out just who that older woman was. Awkward.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Ben racing down the street to the church is shot with an ultra-wide lens, making him appear to be running in place.
  • Runaway Bride: Man, those people on that bus must have been so confused.
  • Sad Times Montage: Set to Simon and Garfunkel, of course. Features mostly clips of Ben floating around in a pool and jumping into bed repeatedly with MILF Mrs. Robinson, one might think that this should be a Good Times Montage. However, the music is sad, Ben's facial expression almost never changes from one of lost boredom, and the general idea conveyed is that he's just drifting with no idea what to do with himself or his life, lost in a sea of easy-on-the-ears folk rock angst. (Another, even sadder one comes after Elaine discovers Ben's affair with her mother and leaves for Berkeley.)
  • Satellite Love Interest: Elaine. Sure, she's gorgeous — she's played by Katharine Ross, after all — but we never really learn much of anything about her; indeed, her status as Forbidden Fruit per Mrs. Robinson's orders seems to be the primary source of Ben's attraction to her.
  • Say My Name:
    • "ELAINE!... ELAINE!... ELAINE!... ELAINE!... ELAINE!... ELAINE!..."
    • "BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!"
  • Sexless Marriage: At one point Mrs. Robinson reveals to Ben that she and her husband have separate rooms.
  • She's Got Legs: Mrs. Robinson, rather famously. In the scene from which the famous poster image shown at the top of this page was taken, Ben was actually starting to leave - then Mrs. Robinson decided to put her stockings back on... (Incidentally, those actually aren't Anne Bancroft's legs on the poster. Linda Gray, aka Sue Ellen Ewing, was the leg double.)
  • Shotgun Wedding: Mr. and Mrs. Robinson's wedding was one of these.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Elaine decides to be a Runaway Bride, her mother reminds her that she is already married. The answer has to be the shortest and hence most powerful Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    Mrs. Robinson: Elaine, it's too late!
    Elaine: Not for me!
  • Smug Snake: Mrs. Robinson.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: The last seven seconds of the movie. Their faces say it all.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: He's a bit late, but hey, what's too late? "It's too late!" "Not for me!"
  • Stacy's Mom: Mrs. Robinson is easily a candidate for this one, given the memetic line that sprang forth from it.
  • Stalking Is Love: Ben is guilty of this. He watches Elaine leave for Berkeley behind the bushes, then goes to Berkley to be near her, then chases a bus to bug her as she's on her way to a date with another guy, despite the fact that this entire time she kind of hates him.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers:
    • Ben and Elaine. Heck, the kid had an affair with her mother, was accused of rape, and her parents forced her into marrying another guy to keep them apart. Thanksgiving's going to be awkward.
    • Except for the fact Elaine is the girl his parents picked out for him.
    • And the ending suggests they may not actually love each other.
  • Stepford Suburbia: The elder Braddocks and Robinsons live in a version of this.
  • Stocking Filler: That scene, where they're getting dressed, and she's putting on her stocking... yeah.
  • Television Geography:
    • Everyone in Northern California knows this movie shows Ben driving the wrong way over the Bay Bridge when he goes to Berkeley.
    • What they fail to wonder is why he's on the Bay Bridge in the first place, since most of the major routes from the south run along the Berkeley/Oakland side rather than the SF side.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: It's not the main theme, but Ben whistles the "Mrs. Robinson" song while driving in one scene, and again later when he buys the engagement ring for Elaine.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: Oddly not mentioned, although the beautiful Mrs. Robinson is a depressed alcoholic who cheats on her husband and tries to force her daughter into an unhappy marriage, and Ben (who rescues the daughter) is played by Dustin Hoffman. Then again, Dustin Hoffman was cast at the last minute.
  • Two Words: Added Emphasis: The trope may have originated with one word: "Plastics."
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • The film popularised the Runaway Bride trope - and the sequence of Benjamin convincing his love interest to run out on her wedding is iconic. But its numerous imitators forget to include the part that happens next; once they're on the bus and the thrill wears off, the two share a look that says "did we really do the right thing?" - and the film ends ambiguously
    • The film was the Trope Namer for Mrs. Robinson. But it isn't portrayed just for fanservice, although Mrs. Robinson is certainly attractive, but also for drama. Mrs. Robinson was forced into Shotgun Wedding after having a child out of wedlock, and she wants to have affair with Ben out of dissatisfaction with a forced marriage. It also portrays the consequences of a young man having an affair with a married woman: when Ben falls for Elaine, Mrs. Robinson lies and tells Elaine and Mr. Robinson that he took advantage of her. The latter threatens to sue him if he ever comes near his family again, and Elaine initially wants nothing to do with him.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Ben, while not a jerk, lacks sympathetic traits.
  • Vader Breath: Ben, when he is wearing the scuba outfit and the camera sees things from his perspective.
  • Vanilla Edition: MGM's Blu-ray of the film has fewer bonus features than any of the DVDs, although they (sort of) make up for it by including commentaries and interviews on the bonus DVD copy. Nicely averted with The Criterion Collection's Blu-Ray, as you might expect.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: To some extent Ben, especially in the beginning.
  • Virgin Shaming: It could be interpreted that Ben is a virgin before he sleeps with Mrs. Robinson. At the very least, he sleeps with Mrs Robinson because she challenges him on his inexperience. He acts so horribly awkward she outright asks him, and he unsuccessfully tries to deny it, so she basically dares him to prove himself. "Just because you happen to be inadequate in one way..." To his... credit?... Dustin Hoffman, 30 years old at the time, does a great job of playing a nervous, shy virgin.
  • Wall Bang Her: Ben does this during his first hotel tryst with Mrs. Robinson, when he grabs her breast and she's too busy trying to rub a stain from her blouse even to notice. This was actually improvisation on the part of Hoffman, who thought he had botched the scene and returned to the other end of the room to start it over. Director Mike Nichols kept rolling, however, and the result is classic.
  • Wedding Deadline:
    • The last half hour or so is built around Ben trying to beat this. He fails, but it winds up not mattering much.
    • In the book, he actually does make it, but director Mike Nichols felt that it was too corny.
  • "What Now?" Ending: The film ends with Ben and Elaine, having just fled Elaine's wedding, sitting next to each other on the back seat of a bus as the adrenaline rush of the escape wears off, leaving them with expressions that can be summed up as, "So what do we do now?"
  • Zip Me Up: Mrs. Robinson actually asks to be un-zipped.

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