I could only say little about the renowned director Mike Nichols who had long been making inimitable films decades before my ordinary existence. His understanding of the human ethos is directed through the intimate exploration of the many faces of tragedy, be it the perfectly recognizable post-college malaise in THE GRADUATE and the treacherous trials of love in CLOSER. These two flicks are quite seductive on their own; the former famously identified by its iconic quote and the latter through its quartet of attractive leads. Nichols is also notable for selecting the felicitous accompanying folk music that enriches the overall cinematic experience. Without further ado, here are my takes on two of Nichols’ mainstream films.
THE GRADUATE (1967)
Hello darkness, my old friend…
In describing coming-of-age films, ‘timeless’ comes into mind when the movie is still ripe of its emotional resonance, years since its release. The genre’s potent ability to evoke such feeling and memory makes the metaphysical bond with the film more personal. It’s not just by recognizing the emotive gravity of that moment, but also finding one’s self in that scene at one point in a lifetime.
If there’s a film that accurately captured a moment in my life, it would be Nichols’ Oscar-winning film (as Best Director), THE GRADUATE, starring a gangly and fidgety Dustin Hoffman who finds himself lost post-graduation. Simply put, this coming-of-age film perfectly understands and embodies the empty void the ex-student feels after finishing one’s education. It’s the only movie that articulated excellently the existential crisis I felt after graduation. What do I do with my life after finishing school? How do I begin the rest of my life after completing the only thing that I’ve been doing since kindergarten? THE GRADUATE doesn’t grill its lead character about philosophical and radical rhetoric fitting for his scholarly standing. The young, promising intellectual introduced as Benjamin Braddock was weathered to become uncertain and unguarded whose compulsiveness to evade his career indecision took him off the road. The ending may not be the most optimistic but it is realistic. Awkwardly funny yet affecting of its youth’s cynicism and idealism, THE GRADUATE is consistent in evoking the authentic malaise that people who were once in Benjamin’s shoes had felt, including me.
Benjamin’s infamous affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) becomes his main diversion during his post-collegiate and pre-occupation existential limbo. What follows was a whirlwind of events that brought out Benjamin’s assertiveness from his timidity. The essence of coming-of-age films is rooted on the self-discovery and personal growth that bloom from life-changing decisions of its precocious and/or impetuous young characters. Benjamin wouldn’t recognize the man he had grown at the conclusion. However, his neutral impression in the last scene finds him on the same page in the beginning, haunted by uncertainty.
THE GRADUATE is a poignant splice of life easy to identify with. The feeling of ambiguity, anxiety and apprehension altogether simmer into the vulnerability of not knowing what to do in the future. Amidst the troubles on the heels of his recklessness, Benjamin discovers passion in pursuing what he wants and fights for it in the end. While the film is ambiguous on the regret over his climatic choice, the ending establishes the necessary maturity of his character existing in the permanence of uncertainty. THE GRADUATE is sympathetic on his predicament but it also emphasizes the inevitability of growing up (making more informed choices as the first step). The fear of what the future could bring can’t be overturned and Benjamin realizes it in the end. All he could do is be committed to his life-changing decision.
Benjamin (Hoffman) catching a break.
Remarkably blending with Benjamin’s personal journey in THE GRADUATE is Nichols’ fine choice of folk music from Simon & Garfunkel, whose quintessential melodies foster the film’s soul. Comforting yet brooding of the lead’s problematic situation, “The Sound of Silence” plays as Benjamin arrives from the airport; his uneasiness already palpable and the same song lulls during his nightly rendezvous with Mrs. Robinson. “Mrs. Robinson” is an ode to the movie’s ageless and most famous pop cultural reference. “Scarborough Fair” bookmarks Benjamin’s change in priorities as dictated by his heart.
Timeless and endearing, THE GRADUATE is one of those films that nurtures the being. While it led me to look back to my unemployed days/post-graduation days worried from purposelessness and failure, it also inspired me to look ahead. It’s a scary, uncertain tomorrow but the only direction for the graduate is forward. Speaking for every graduate, I‘m entitled to make mistakes, as long as I learn from it and use them to become better version of myself.
No more turning back, okay?
Now I know why Summer from 500 Days of Summer cried. I didn’t cry anyway, but I felt what she felt. And so should you.
UP NEXT: Why “Closer” makes me glad I’m single.