Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Capturing Boomer Alienation

The Graduate, released in 1967 as a romantic comedy, effectively captured the sense of alienation among the boomer generation from the prevailing norms and tapped into a nascent cultural shift that was emerging but had not yet fully taken root. Within the film, there is a notable absence of references to contemporary news or events, and its characters are predominantly from upper-middle-class or wealthier backgrounds, primarily of white ethnicity. The main character, Benjamin Braddock, has recently graduated from college but seems unaware of the use of marijuana, and his anxieties do not encompass the fear of being drafted into the military. We do not encounter any of the campus’s radical elements. As the narrative unfolds and takes him from Los Angeles, a group of fraternity members greets us, appearing trapped in a time warp reminiscent of the 1950s Eisenhower era. Throughout the film, there are subtle hints of an impending youth rebellion.

Despite being a polished example of classic, high-quality Hollywood filmmaking, The Graduate anticipates the countercultural movement without fully embracing it. The actual driving factor behind the project was its director, Mike Nichols. He had already achieved significant success in three different areas: first as the comedic partner of Elaine May in one of the most influential and humorous improvisational comedy duos ever, then as the director of Neil Simon’s first two Broadway hits, and finally as a filmmaker whose debut directorial work, an adaptation of Edward Albee’s groundbreaking drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

The film’s unsettling tone, characterized by Nichols’s sophisticated, sardonic, witty, and somewhat detached comic style, was further enhanced by Dustin Hoffman’s performance. This collaboration between Nichols’s directorial approach and Hoffman’s acting prowess left the sneak-preview audience with an exhilarating feeling that they had witnessed the birth of a cultural phenomenon and the rise of a new star.

Box Office Triumph

The Graduate has achieved tremendous success by being screened in nearly nine hundred and fifty theaters throughout the United States and Canada. The film’s popularity has surged, drawing audiences back for repeat viewings. It has broken box office records, accomplishing this feat in around forty percent of its screenings and amassing over thirty-five million dollars in revenue within its initial six months. Joseph E. Levine, the film’s president, anticipates that The Graduate will ultimately claim the title of the highest-grossing film in cinematic history, ensuring the continuation of this positive trajectory.

However, it is essential to note that box office earnings are not the sole indicator of the film’s triumph. Like the Beatles, The Graduate has garnered acclaim from many viewers. It has secured a spot in the top ten rankings of respected publications such as Newsweek, the Saturday Review, Cue, the National Board of Review, and various newspapers, including the Times. The movie has won five out of seven Golden Globe Awards, which include honors for Best Actress in a Comedy, Best Director, Best Comedy, and recognition for both Best Male and Female Newcomers. With seven Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Director, it has further solidified its place in cinematic history. Notably, it even served as the basis for an essay question on pre-marital sex in a final exam at an Eastern women’s college.

The film’s exceptional word-of-mouth buzz has contributed to its status as a cultural phenomenon, making it an almost obligatory cinematic experience that fosters discussions across generational and social boundaries. It challenges the notion that entertainment should categorize itself for either discerning or undemanding audiences.

The impressive profits generated by The Graduate suggest Hollywood can successfully balance commercial success and artistic merit. For years, filmmakers with ambitious aspirations have argued that the high production costs made it impractical to fund “truly substantial and compelling content,” as it might not attract a large enough audience to cover expenses. The Graduate debunks this notion, indicating that we have underestimated the potential of the public. Due to economic achievement, popularity across various age groups and social strata, and favorable critical reception in mainstream and elite media, it is undeniably the most significant success in cinema history.

While The Graduate stands as a monumental triumph, it owes its success to its remarkable box office performance and its ability to demonstrate that Hollywood can effectively blend commercial viability with artistic excellence.

Capturing the Late-Sixties American Culture

The Graduate, under the direction of George Nichols, aimed to capture the essence of late-sixties American culture. It drew inspiration from Charles Webb’s novel. It represented the second instance in 1967 when an innovative American film defied initial skepticism from the critical establishment, winning over substantial youthful audiences and securing Oscar nominations. The project received financial backing from independent producer Joseph Levine, whose patience waned as the production exceeded its planned initial timeline. Levine harbored little optimism about the film’s prospects, a sentiment echoed by influential critics like Pauline Kael and John Simon, who dismissed it. However, encouraged by positive reviews and word-of-mouth endorsements, The Graduate found enthusiastic acceptance among viewers, especially the burgeoning boomer demographic, which was gaining significant influence at the box office.

In the context of 1967, The Graduate was not the first film to simultaneously attract substantial young audiences and secure Oscar nominations; this distinction belonged to Bonnie and Clyde. The creators of Bonnie and Clyde, which included director Arthur Penn and screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton, openly took inspiration from the New Wave cinema movement in France. Their neo-gangster film bore the influence of pioneers like Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. However, The Graduate followed a different artistic approach. While the film featured moments of impressive filmmaking, its enduring directorial strengths, exemplified by Nichols, lay in its sharp and clever screenplay, impeccable casting, and the remarkable performances extracted from the entire ensemble.

Every character in the film left an indelible mark, from William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson as Benjamin’s parents to Murray Hamilton as Mr. Robinson, Norman Fell as a frazzled Berkeley landlord, and even Buck Henry in a brief appearance as a hotel clerk. Nichols often cited Elia Kazan as an influence, sharing Kazan’s commitment to casting and directing actors. Both directors were uniquely able to adapt great plays into cinematic works successfully, a challenge often deemed insurmountable.

The Graduate stands as one of Nichols’s most enduring works in his illustrious career, alongside films like Virginia Woolf and Angels in America. The film’s success stemmed from its central focus on the protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, who grapples with a sense of drowning in materialism, affluence, and conflict, ultimately seeking refuge in madness as an escape. The film’s emotional detachment from the world surrounding him lends it a timeless quality while firmly anchoring it in its era.

The Graduate aimed to encapsulate the essence of late-sixties American culture, utilizing the novel and the character of Benjamin Braddock as vehicles. Outstanding performances, clever screenplay, and the remarkable talents of the entire cast primarily drove its success. It serves as a testament to the power of storytelling and the skill of a capable director like Nichols in bringing great literary works to life on the silver screen.

The Initial Conflicts

In the first part of The Graduate, the central conflicts revolve around Benjamin’s future choices. Director Mike Nichols courageously handles the initial exposition, creating an anticipation that the movie will offer resolutions. Initially, the film delves into what it means to be a promising young man in contemporary America. Benjamin finds himself in a state of vast potential, a condition typically associated with young men. However, the conventional expectations regarding life’s path no longer hold.

From Benjamin’s viewpoint, the world inhabited by his parents and friends seems empty and devoid of substance. Upon returning home, insincere adults who have mismanaged their lives surround him. He perceives himself as teetering on the edge of similarly ruining his life. During this early part of the film, Nichols immerses himself so deeply in this constrained perspective that Benjamin’s outlook becomes that of both Nichols and the audience. Nichols adeptly translates Benjamin’s perception of the grotesque nature of adulthood into striking cinematic language, leaving even the most traditional viewers struggling to dismiss Benjamin’s predicament with comments like, “He is a spoiled brat; what is he complaining about? My child should be so fortunate!” Nichols’ portrayal in the film’s early stages staunchly opposes the concept of adulthood, possibly the most anti-adult sentiment ever presented in a Hollywood production.

A quick survey of parents who watched The Graduate indicates that only a few regarded Benjamin as the story’s antagonist. Most either identified with Benjamin or felt sympathetic towards him in a paternalistic manner. They developed this empathy by considering Benjamin’s parents as extraordinarily extreme. Mr. Braddock is depicted as a more rational figure than the typical suburban stereotype, avoiding the Hollywood fusion of Jewish and wasp extravagance, such as the father character from Auntie Mame. The film audaciously criticizes Mr. Braddock’s role as a father.

The film disapproves of him for being an inappropriate role model and for harboring misguided ambitions for his son. No one in Benjamin’s life offers him a sense of direction or inspiration. He might not have felt so profoundly adrift if he had encountered a single exceptional teacher or mentor during his time at the unnamed Eastern college. Benjamin’s prospects in adulthood seem bleak mainly because his surroundings need to present a meaningful concept of adulthood or hint at what that concept might entail.

Promising Young Manhood

While the tensions in the initial third of the movie The Graduate center on Benjamin’s forthcoming decisions, Mike Nichols fearlessly handles the setup, building an anticipation that the film will furnish solutions. The movie initially explores what it signifies to be a promising young man in contemporary America. Benjamin finds himself in a state of vast potential, commonly linked to young men. However, the conventional expectations regarding the trajectory of one’s life appear no longer applicable.

From Benjamin’s perspective, the world his parents and friends inhabited seems barren and lacking in substance. Upon returning home, insincere adults who have mishandled their lives surround him. He perceives himself as teetering on the brink of similarly ruining his life. During this early phase of the film, Nichols delves so deeply into this limited viewpoint that Benjamin’s perspective becomes shared by both Nichols and the audience. Nichols skillfully translates Benjamin’s perception of the repulsive aspects of adulthood into vivid cinematic language, making it challenging even for the most conservative viewers to dismiss Benjamin’s predicament with remarks like, “He is a spoiled brat; why is he complaining? My child should be so lucky!” Nichols’ portrayal in the film’s initial segments adamantly opposes the concept of adulthood, possibly presenting the most anti-adult sentiment ever witnessed in a Hollywood production.

A cursory survey of parents who watched The Graduate reveals that only a tiny percentage considered Benjamin the story’s antagonist. Most either related to Benjamin or felt sympathetic toward him in a paternalistic manner. They cultivated this empathy by viewing Benjamin’s parents as exceptionally extreme. Mr. Braddock is depicted as a more rational figure than the typical suburban stereotype, avoiding the Hollywood amalgamation of Jewish and wasp ostentation, exemplified by the father character from Auntie Mame. The film boldly critiques Mr. Braddock’s role as a father.

The film censures him for being an unsuitable role model and harboring misguided ambitions for his son. No one in Benjamin’s life gives him a sense of direction or inspiration. He might not have felt so profoundly adrift if he had encountered even a single exceptional teacher or mentor during his time at the unnamed Eastern college. Benjamin’s prospects in adulthood appear grim mainly because his surroundings fail to offer a meaningful concept of adulthood, not even hinting at what that concept might entail.

Bibliography

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *