Film / The Graduate

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

The Graduate is a 1967 film, directed by Mike Nichols and based on Charles Webb's novel of the same title, about recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock's affair with the wife of his father's partner, Mrs. Robinson. Famous for being lauded as the first movie made for the (then) new Baby Boomer generation, prominently featuring Simon & Garfunkel music (most memorably the toe-tapper "Mrs. Robinson"), and sky-rocketing Dustin Hoffman to fame. It also contains many extremely memorable and oft lovingly 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 Ben (Hoffman), with no idea what to do with his life and 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. 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.

Future movie star Richard Dreyfuss made his film debut in this movie; he has one line. ("Shall I get the cops? I'll get the cops".)

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 Attractiveness: Inverted; 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 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.
  • 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...
  • 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 FiancÚ: 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. It's a minimum of 1,000 miles in 24 hours, on what were much smaller highways with stops and signal lights in 1967. The US 99 and 101 freeways were barely half-bypassed at the time, and I-5 not even open yet.
    • 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.
  • Hot And Cold: Mrs. Robinson, towards the beginning of the film.
  • I'll Kill You!: Mr. Robinson, during Ben's wedding crash.
  • Jerkass Fašade: 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Mrs. Robinson, save for getting slapped by Elaine during the wedding crash. 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.
  • 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.
  • Lady Drunk: Mrs. Robinson, of course.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • Mrs. Robinson: The Trope Namer.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Robinson becomes a rather twisted version of this vis-Ó-vis Elaine.
  • No Name Given:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Perpetual Expression: Ben in the below mentioned montage. His expression changes maybe once.
  • Playing Gertrude: Anne Bancroft was 36.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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, and 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!
  • 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!:
    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!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: To some extent Ben, especially in the beginning.
  • 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.