Film Studies 1800
Lesson 2 Mise-en-Scène
The Graduate, a film released in 1967, involves a young man going through the crisis of finding himself after graduating college. Ben Braddock is at a stand still, unsure of what to do with his future. The film is set in the late 60’s in a suburban upper middle class area in Southern California. Mostly, the movie takes place at the Braddock’s home, a hotel nearby, a University, and a Church. The plot does not drift very far from a few different places, because the central theme includes the realization that Ben is just “drifting” through life, with no real concrete plan and no destination. As a way to cope with his crisis, Ben decides to have an affair with a family friend of his parents after she seduces him on the night of his Graduation celebration. As Ben succumbs to the affair with Mrs. Robinson, he slips in to a dream-like state.
As the affair continues, a scene unfolds in which it simply becomes a routine to Ben, as well as Mrs. Robinson. This sequence involves mostly music, with only a little bit of talking at its close. The song that is playing is “April Come She Will.” The tune symbolizes Ben merely going through the motions and letting life pass by him, as he tunes everything else in his life out. “April Come She Will” begins as only Ben’s face is illuminated by the use of directional light and everything else in the frame is black. It is as if there is nothing else in the world besides Ben as his face is expressionless and almost lifeless. He meekly stares at the TV, which is strategically placed in the foreground to emphasize that Ben blankly looks straight ahead with seemingly no emotions, even though the TV is on and Mrs. Robinson walks past it multiple times. He does not even blink and it is as though she doesn’t even exist. Mrs. Robinson’s face is not even shown in this clip to display that the affair has become so meaningless and emotionless. Blocking is used to blur Mrs. Robinson out and have the focus solely on Ben. Mrs. Robinson, along with everyone else in Ben’s life, continues on with her daily routine while Ben lingers in detached state of mind. Mrs. Robinson’s nice clothing she puts on as she leaves her continuing affair prove that she still puts on the kept-together image to the world outside of the hotel room. She represents a white-collar wife with nice clothing and especially someone that puts on an act in order to conform to the superficial social norms of this lifestyle. Her husband is oblivious and she seems to act as if it does not happen either. She presumably puts on the happy act that her marriage is fine, while she is secretly having an affair in spite of her husband and as a way to lash out against her unsuccessful marriage.
As Mrs. Robinson leaves the room, Ben is shown smoking a cigarette. As a track star in college, this was something he never would have done before. As stress and confusion has come about with not knowing his future, and as Ben’s affair becomes a routine, the cigarette implies that Ben has grown up. He is no longer the innocent young 21 year old, but rather one that has matured very quickly as Mrs. Robinson has stolen his adolescence. Only Ben’s face is shown smoking a cigarette in the hotel room as Mrs. Robinson exits, then once the camera moves backwards away from just his face, he is then in his room at his parents house. It seems as though his old life is connected to this new world he has become a part of. As props, a dartboard and planes and various other objects fill his room at home. These things represent his youth. His life becomes a blur between going back and forth between the hotel and his parents’ home. He seems to be floating in the middle, trying to find his place in the world.
This idea that he is just “floating” is reinforced when Ben decides to get up and go swim in the pool. The water in the pool is a reoccurring symbol throughout the film...
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