[Movie] Historical Approach to The Graduate

The Graduate is considered as one of the greatest movie at all time. Other than the incredible cinematography and editing techniques employed in The Graduate, the context of the movie could also be analyzed through a historical approach. The affair, certain specific scenes and motifs all gradually reveal social reality for various group of individual in different level in the post-war period of 1960s America. And the protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, in the historical content, represents something more than himself.

As the name of the movie indicates, The Graduate’s focus is not merely on the story of the affair, rather than a small yet important fragment of life of the central character Benjamin. We could infer that although in the story Benjamin is constantly worrying about the affair he had with Mrs. Robinson, this could actually alludes to the lost of self-identity of graduates. After attending more than 12 years of school, graduates such as Benjamin suddenly have to decide for themselves what they are going to do, which career they are going to choose and what kind of life they want to have in the future. All of this could be extremely horrifying especially for introvert like Benjamin. He is constantly being pushed to different social events and forced to accompany and play up to all the relatives and family friends with no determined goal or aim in life.

This is also the case for the affair. For example, in the famous shot where the camera is placed under the Mrs. Robinson’s leg, the audience could clearly see the nervousness of young Benjamin. It could be inferred that this kind of situation not merely occur towards the experienced Mrs. Robinson, but also for numerous situations he has not been exposed to.

Even arguing with Mrs. Robinson yet accepting her in the end of the hotel scene, Benjamin still does not know what he should do and even afraid of telling where is him every evening to his parents. The sense of lost and uncertainty continues in the movie even to the ending of the film where Ben and Elaine’s face change from loving to neutral. This kind of fear for the future indicates the exact emotion state of the college graduates.

More than depicting the post-college malaise, this movie even spoke strongly to a generation of people with Benjamin’s age. In the scene where Benjamin is made to model a wetsuit for his 21th birthday party,this indicates the pressure from the inside of the character — his anxiety about the future, and also the pressure he, like other teens at that age, received from the older generation.

First and foremost, Benjamin’s father constantly referring him as a “boy” rather than “young man”, this emphasizes that the protagonist is still being view and treated as a thoughtless children. And even through Ben is almost begging his father to talk before he walks out in the wetsuit; his father ignored his request for numerous times. Moreover, the cinematography employs large faces of friends of the family monopolizing the screen while Benjamin is walking out of the house towards the pool, accentuating the power of people other than Ben. All of this could insinuate the problems and the situation of the young generation face in 1960s.

The Graduate was made in 1967, in a Post-World War II period of time. After World War II, there were abundant job opportunities and people’s main focus is to improve their living standard by working hard and increase their possession of wealth. However, in the late 1960s, decades after the war, when people’s life tend to move more smoothly and achieve certain level of social status, middle-class families such as those depicted in the movie are transferring their attention to their children: everyone wants his/her children to live in the same kind of life with material comfort. Nevertheless, growing up with everything, the kids have no control over their own life yet want something more than their authoritative parent’s materialistic life.

In order to avoid this kind of attention and pressure, latter the scene, Ben sits lonely at the bottom of the swimming pool and all the background noise disappear. In this case, the swimming pool act as an insulation of Ben with the outside world.

Furthermore, the picture of the clown in the setting reveals the internal state of Benjamin. While Benjamin is going down to the party thrown by his parent, the camera intentionally focuses on the picture of a clown. It is clear to the audience that this is an indication of what Benjamin perceives as himself during such social events.

In the late 1960s, parents stood for stodgy middle-class values while the kids joined sexual and the political evolution. For example, “Summer of Love” is a phenomenon that young people converged in a neighborhood of San Francisco as a counterculture movement (for instance, protesting against the Vietnam War). Even though this is not shown in the movie, however, the rebellion of Ben and Elaine towards Mrs. Robinson and the everyone at the wedding could be marked as a insinuation and prognosis. Thus, the distinct value change of two generation creates immense differences at that period of time and is demonstrated in the movie.

Not only the bewilderment of the Boomers’ generation; as a matter of fact, the movie has also shown the uncertainty of the general public towards the government and the society at that period. This is captured as well by the portray of protagonist Ben. In fact, many of the scenes depict the feeling of lost of the graduate Benjamin, including the multiple scenes where only Ben is shot in the center of the camera, staring directly to the front still for more than five seconds. For example, the story begins with him sitting alone while the guests are all downstairs waiting for him in his graduation party. With no specific movements and the conversation between him and his father, the character’s stillness exemplifies this sense of lost.

After the World War, the collapse of traditional value of family and morals lead people to reflect on American Dream. With the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, citizens were disappointed to the society as well as the government. Therefore, the final rebellion of Benjamin to the traditional values could also suggests the people’s need for hope and action to progress the social reform and change.

To watch the movie today is like opening a time capsule. With the decline of the traditional Hollywood film and the abolition of the Hays Code, the movie is able to reflect its age in a more novel way. Not only represent graduates themselves, Benjamin also symbolizes the entire young generation and the era. Rather than accepting his fate, the protagonist, representing the general public, made the decision to fight for a brighter future.