The Graduate: An Adopted Champion of the Youth Movement
The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Dustin Hoffman is not only critically hailed as a one of the greatest films of all time, it is also one of the most financially successful films of all time.1 Although initially looked over by the established Hollywood elite, the film found a home with an underrepresented and frustrated youth culture that was taking root in the 1960s. Its success lay in its effective portrayal and communication of the generation gap from a youthful perspective. Its box office reception as well as its critical reception show a shift in the definition of a bankable Hollywood film both in its choice of director, stars, music, narrative content, and style. In short the rebellious nature of the film captured the attention and praise of a rebellious generation.
The 1960s were a time a great social unrest. The clean cut facade of the 1950s was aggressively being overthrown by a generation of youth frustrated by the restrictive and often hypocritical artificiality of their parent's generation. Youth in revolt is an age old theme but at this point the tensions seemed to be at a breaking point. Film, as an artistic medium, almost always reflects the culture in which it is produced, but, few films truly capture the feelings and subtleties of its audience. Even fewer films define that generation. The Graduate, released in 1967, is one of those films. It's subtle commentaries on the generation gap and youthful unrest are a testament of the time. It spoke to a new generation of filmgoers with its humor, but also, more importantly, with its point of view. We witness through the eyes of newly graduated Benjamin Braddock the tensions of a generation gap and demands of his parents and their social circle to conform to their often ridiculous vision for his life. The Graduate portrays these themes with striking honesty and hilarious precision. The massive critical and financial success of The Graduate, although a surprise to the Hollywood establishment that had initially dismissed it2, was no doubt because of its ability to connect with an underrepresented demographic of society – youth.
Director Mike Nichols states that he did not intend to make a commentary on the so called generation gap, but, intended to make a film that was against the artificiality of American culture and, in his words, to, “stop the Los Angelesization of America."3 This idea shows itself blatantly in one stand out scene in the film. At Benjamin's homecoming party he is cornered by one of his father's friends who attempts to impart business advice on Benjamin. His advice is as follows, “Benjamin... I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics.”4 The ridiculousness of that exchange perfectly captures the films satyrical look at phony American society. Despite Nichols admitted intensions, the film's themes of alienation and its anti-establishment stance were hailed as a champion to the youth movement's cause. In my own opinion, because The Graduate was rebellious in nature, not just with its narrative content but also in its production choices to be discussed later, it spoke to the ethos of the youth movement by articulating young people's frustration with the older generation before them. In other words, they saw themselves in Benjamin Braddock and his struggle as a reflection of their own.
Those who viewed the film tended to like or dislike it for the same reasons. David Brinkley, a well known television newsman and commentator, wrote in The Ladies Home Journal in 1968, “It was far from the best movie I ever saw. But it seemed they liked it because it said about the parents and others what they would have said about us if they had made the movie themselves -- that we are self-centered and materialistic, that we are licentious and deeply hypocritical about it, that we try to make them into walking advertisements for our own affluence, our own...
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