This is the time of year when the notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” can be heard emanating from colleges and universities near and far. As new grads prepare to launch themselves into the “real world” we can’t help but be reminded of naive Benjamin Braddock, the protagonist of the classic 1967 film “The Graduate.”
In the film (which also boasts an amazing soundtrack, BTW), Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college on the cusp of his 21st birthday. After moving back in with his parents, who expect him to do GREAT THINGS, he’s faced with a challenge that so many grads must contend with: What, exactly, to do with the rest of his life. Coinciding — or perhaps to cope — with his indecision and failure to launch a successful career (immediately after graduating, mind you), Benjamin begins a torrid affair with Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner.
Mrs. Robinson offers an escape from the pressures of adult life that are suddenly bearing down on Benjamin from all angles. A commanding woman who knows what she wants, Benjamin is confounded and clearly intimidated by her. In contrast, when Benjamin meets — and later, falls in love with — her daughter, Elaine (played by Katharine Ross), it’s clear he feels more comfortable. Unsurprisingly, that’s when things get complicated.
While we might advise against taking the same route as Benjamin, we think most new graduates can relate to the overwhelming feeling conveyed in the film of suddenly being out of school and seeing your life stretched far in front of you, and the desire to escape that. When we’re younger — in junior high and high school — all we can dream about is never having to go to school again. It’s only when we’ve graduated that the reality of being an adult and suddenly being expected to make a career and a living — and maybe even get married — sets in.
While the circumstances may feel dire to Benjamin at the start of the movie, we see him slowly start to take better control of his life, culminating in the iconic final scene where he breaks up the wedding of Elaine — who in her own right is gaining independence and daring to defy her parents’ wishes.
Torrid affairs with older women aside, with grads everywhere jumping headfirst into this inaugural summer of true adulthood, Benjamin offers a heartening portrayal of post-grad languidness.