Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry (screenplay) Charles Webb (novel)
Some movies speak for a generation, and every once and a while comes along a timeless film that speaks for all generations to come. This movie may take place in a specific time in history but has content that will speak to any and every generation. We all hit this stage in life where we have done what we were supposed to do but have to face the next question of “now what?” There is nobody there to answer that question and not knowing is something you have to face and rise above when the time comes. This was a provocative and ambitious movie in 1967 but in 2013 it is a legend. I cannot even begin to think of how often I hear or see references to this movie in everything from other films and TV shows to fast food advertisement. When a movie continues to be relevant for so long it is really something special. It’s going on 50 years now since it came out and I literally hear the same Hardees commercial nearly every day in which they do a parody of this movie involving Mrs. Robinson seducing a guy with some new burger. It’s truly incredible and absolutely justified. This movie speaks for itself and anybody that sits down and watches it can relate to it. It’s a truly telling story about life and youth within a larger story about sex and scandal. It’s about rebellious youth and the confusion that comes along with it. That is something that every generation to come will experience and that is what makes this movie so timeless.
This is a great movie and the struggle of the main character is one we can all relate to. You can see plainly in the intro that if nothing else Ben is obviously unhappy and confused about something. He gets home and a large party is thrown in his honor. As he sits alone upstairs the party goes on without him below. This isn’t really his party, it’s his parent’s party. The party is for them to celebrate their son’s accomplishments. The guests are all his parent’s friends and none of his own. Ben has reached a difficult crossroads in life. He has accomplished what he set out to do but doesn’t know what to do next, and doesn’t even know what he wants. Despite his recent ascension into adult life as a college graduate he is still very much the child to his parents and they expect him to behave. He tries to discuss this with his parents but they don’t hear any of it, they just want him to shut up, be a good boy, and go downstairs to make them look good. This movie is as much about rebellion as anything else but it takes him time to get there. Later in the film when he has to do the demonstration for his parents he tries to express his reluctance but they aren’t listening. That’s the whole point though, they aren’t listening. His dad has to correct himself multiple times just to quit calling him a boy and the mere fact that he is putting on a demonstration for their friends says a lot about how they see him. It’s not until Mrs. Robinson actually makes him a man that he makes the transition into a real adult, but even then he doesn’t really know what to do with himself.
Ben does what all young and confused men would do in his place. He goes with the crazy decision that will keep life interesting. He knows he shouldn’t be doing it but inside every young man is a horny teenager who hasn’t left yet (and in truth never really does). His relationship with Mrs. Robinson isn’t even a happy one. It’s nothing but pure carnal desire and the thrill of doing something dangerous. For Ben I have always felt that Elaine was simply stage two of that dangerous behavior. He thinks he is in love with her but he doesn’t know what he wants. His confusion led him into trouble before and it only gets him into more later on. You can see it on the bus as the movie ends. He has just become obsessive over Elaine and she has gotten swept up in the foolish romantic gesture. They don’t look sure if they are in love or not or if they have even realized what they have done yet, they are just caught up in the excitement of the moment. For those of us who are older now we know what is to come. When reality sets in things aren’t going to get any easier for these two star crossed lovers. Yes Elaine walked out on a good life and possibly avoided the same mistake her mother made in entering a loveless marriage but reality is tough. Life is no fairy tale and as sad as the truth is she made a horrible mistake. She knows it too, as she looks at Ben she is considering all of this and you can see a hint of regret along her expression of uncertainty.
It is alluded to that Ben is a very intelligent young man because of an award he received in college and his age indicated that he graduated from college early. Despite this I have always thought Ben was aloof and fell ass backwards into ass. No matter how awkward he is Mrs. Robinson continually throws herself at him. It also doesn’t matter how much of an ass he is to Elaine she still keeps coming back to him. Yet he doesn’t understand why the woman he is having an affair with doesn’t want him to see her daughter. Then he doesn’t understand why it wouldn’t work with Elaine after she knows about the affair. When he is confronted by Mr. Robinson he seems to think this man will understand that he is in love with his daughter and that what he did with his wife meant nothing but he has made a cuckold out of this man. What was nothing more than a handshake to him means a lot more to a man who has so much to lose because of it. He has shamed him and humiliated this man but fails to understand that. Ah the ignorance of youth and how foolish they can be. I don’t know who I’m kidding either, we as humans seem to never really grow out of foolish decisions. We just don’t always get so caught up in them as Ben.
Dustin Hoffman is a legend, and this film is a huge part of what makes him so legendary. Ben Braddock may be a bit of a dope caught up in the foolishness of youth but Hoffman brought him to life and he will live on forever in the part. Hoffman received his first Oscar nomination for the role but that year the award went to Rod Steiger for his role In the Heat of the Night amid heavy competition in 1968. This was his breakout role and he would go on to be nominated for the top award seven times and winning twice. In the role of Mrs. Robinson Anne Bancroft was sexy and desperate. She was only six years older than Hoffman when she played the part but she still brought an elegance to it that conveyed an older woman. She was so seductive as the woman who had made a decision and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Katharine Ross was also great as Elaine. She didn’t go on to have a very significant career but she was perfect in this movie.
This is without doubt the most famous of all the films directed by Mike Nichols. Nichols has not had the most distinguishing of careers but he has still made some really memorable movies. While this will always be called his greatest film my favorite has always been The Birdcage. It is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. What Planet Are You From? is also a very funny movie and I have long since loved that one too. Nichols is now in his 80s and we have probably seen the end of his career now. It’s unfortunate but I think he can easily look back and be proud of what he has accomplished.
Like many classic movies we review I don’t think you need me to tell you this one is worth your time or how good of a movie it is. I have certainly enjoyed revisiting it and writing about it but it is a film that speaks for itself. If you are unsure about how important this movie has been then simply turn on the TV, radio, or go to the movies and eventually you will see references to it. I am terrified that the persevering marketability of this film will eventually lead to a remake. When a film offers this much chance to show sex and nudity it usually not only get a remake but a few sequels to boot. I think it would be a shame and I hope the rights are protected against such a thing. This is a film that should never be touched and I hope it stays out of greedy hands. I have really enjoyed watching this movie again and don’t know why it took so long to add into the collection. It’s actually a movie I used to own on VHS in the years preceding our DVD collection and there are a few of those that just didn’t make the transition because I had watched them so many times already.
Well I think I have blathered on and on sufficiently for this film but I would like to invite you to share any of your own thoughts on the film. I am always interested to hear other opinions. More specifically if anybody has read the book the film is based on and would like to offer a recommendation I can easily be talked into reading it.