The graduate, Mrs Robinson and her daughter

‘The Graduate’ screened at Safma.

Bilal Iqbal November 20, 2011


“Are you trying to seduce me Mrs Robinson?” Turns out she was.

There are two kinds of audiences that The Graduate can potentially play to, and neither will be very open to it.

The older generation, which grew up before the digital boom, will mostly find the film offensive, what with an older woman having an affair with a man half her age (ironically, if the roles were reversed, half of those offended wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow).

The film’s screening at Safma on Friday was a testament to this fact: more than half of the people present at the start had walked out by the time the credits rolled.

The younger generation on the other hand, with their iPods and droids, will find the film too slow for their liking and, frankly speaking, not controversial enough; which is unfortunate really, because Mike Nichols has laden his film with tons of creativity - something you would not expect from a mainstream Hollywood production in the 1960s.

Nichols’ eye, or the camera, is an awkward and unique take on the world that his characters inhabit. Complementing the eye is Dustin Hoffman (Ben) in one of his first major roles. His character profile does not really fit all the achievements attributed to him at his homecoming, but that serves as a little deterrent to what is otherwise a sublime performance. Hoffman looks the part and acts it even better.

Anne Bancroft as Mrs Robinson (the older lady) is a cougar and controls Ben with an iron fist. A scene in the pool in the first half of the film depicts this relationship with Ben on a pool float and Mrs Robinson at the poolside, looking towering and in control from his point of view.

As much as the chemistry between Ben and Mrs Robinson works, the relationship between Ben and Elaine (Mrs Robinson’s daughter) seems almost forced. Their hormonal desire for each other takes on the form of love; and while their love is unconvincing at best, the frenzied second half that happens as a result is a lot of fun.

The contrast between the two relationships is interesting. Here you are with an entirely carnal relationship, which works perfectly possibly because of its simplicity, because the two do not talk. And then there’s Elaine and Ben, with their normal dates and regular talk, but that’s not to say their relationship is not material (in fact nothing in their interactions would seem to suggest otherwise).

The film is not comedy, drama or a romance. It’s a combination of all three and refuses to fit in well in any of the traditional film categories that we have come to expect of Hollywood.

Perhaps the very design of the film is like Ben, a graduate who meanders about aimlessly without anything concrete to follow. Perhaps in the same vein, the film latches onto the frenzied state of Ben as he goes about winning Elaine back in true Bollywood style.

And the triumphant conclusion is suddenly betrayed by the sudden sober faces of Elaine and Ben, as they drive away on a bus, as clueless about their future as Ben (and the film) was in the start.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2011.


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