When I was accepted for my Ph.D. degree program in American History at Loyola University Chicago, I was late in signing up for courses. My experience during my Master’s degree program in Florida Studies at the University of South Florida – St. Petersburg was that these matters would take care of themselves. The classes were essentially made for us, and all it took was our signing up for them. I carried this attitude into enrolling for my first Fall semester, and was shocked when I found that most of the upper-level subjects were not taking any more students. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed for me to take Film and Twentieth Century America with the professor who came to be my mentor at Loyola, Dr. Lewis Erenberg. One of the movies we watched during those months was The Graduate (1967). I had, of course, known about it from reputation, but had not seen it. I believe we can trace the term “cougar,” unfortunately, to it, even if it is not used by name. That should also give you an idea of the kind of movie with which we are contending today.
The Graduate is Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who is returned to California from earning his degree in the Spring from an institution of higher learning on the east coast. His parents are exceedingly proud, even if he is not exceedingly eager to be celebrated by them, but they throw him a party at their house anyway. It soon becomes a gathering for Mr. (William Daniels) and Mrs. Braddock (Elizabeth Wilson), and Benjamin retires to his bedroom without anyone really noticing. Anyone, that is, except for Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Mrs. Robinson is wife to one of Mr. Braddock’s law partners (Murray Hamilton). She finds Benjamin and insists that he drive her home. Once at the Braddock’s, she invites him in and tries to seduce him. Benjamin is shocked by the forwardness, and runs off just as Mr. Robinson returns home. Over the next few days, in the aftermath of this scene, and shrugging off his father’s demands for plans for the next step in his life, Benjamin calls Mrs. Robinson. They agree to meet at a hotel to begin their tryst, and this is how Benjamin spends the majority of his summer. Through their time together, it is revealed that Mrs. Robinson is in a loveless marriage, and that the only reason she is in it is because she “accidentally” became pregnant. When it becomes apparent to Mr. Braddock that his son has little intention of graduate school, he attempts to cajole him out of his stupor by trying to get him to ask out the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), on a date. During one of his encounters with Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin talks of the pressures he is under, and jokes about the idea of dating Elaine. This angers Mrs. Robinson. Yet, Mr. Braddock continues to pressure his son to call on Elaine, not aware of the ongoing affair, simply wanting to cement the relationship with the Robinsons. Eventually, Benjamin agrees, but does not treat Elaine well. In an attempt to make her uninterested in him, he takes her to a strip club. She soon takes her leave in understandable horror, and a remorseful Benjamin goes after her. Soon, a genuine relationship is developing between the two, much to Mrs. Robinson’s dislike, who threatens to reveal their activities to Elaine. I guess in order to control the narrative, Benjamin admits it first, and an again understandably hurt Elaine leaves to return to college over his promises that the affair is concluded . . . as if that makes a difference. Benjamin decides to go after her, and Elaine tells him that her mother claims that Benjamin raped her while Mrs. Robinson was drunk. He is able to salvage the situation (somehow) and asks her to marry him, though (and I do not know how many times I can use the same phrase “again understandably”) she has her doubts about their relationship. Further complicating the situation is the arrival of Mr. Robinson, who threatens charges against Benjamin and demands that Elaine marry her ex-boyfriend, Carl Smith (Brian Avery). To effect this, Mr. Robinson takes Elaine out of school and back to their home. Once more, Benjamin follows. One of his first moves is to break into the Robinsons, hoping to find Elaine. Instead, he runs into Mrs. Robinson, who claims there is nothing he can do to stop Elaine from marrying Carl. She also calls the police, but he manages to get away before they arrive. He goes next to Carl’s fraternity where he learns the location of the wedding the next day. He makes it towards the end of the ceremony, and banging on the window from outside, yells for Elaine. She notices him, and runs from the church. Laughing, they then board a bus. The enduring image, though, is of the two of them sitting in the back of the public transportation, their smiles slowly disappearing as they realize the enormity of what they have done and what lies ahead.
As you might have guessed from reading the plot synopsis, I am a little annoyed with The Graduate. When I was in the course, it was with the incessant Simon and Garfunkel music, although I learned to appreciate their music more over the years. As a more committed Catholic, I think you can probably guess where my annoyance may be focused. The Church views pre-marital sex as a sin for a reason. Also, I do not place the burden of the blame on Mrs. Robinson. As one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs goes, “Jesus loves you more than you know.” If only she had realized that instead of trying to seduce Benjamin, a lot of trouble would have been saved. As for Benjamin, while I suppose he could be applauded in a limited sense for rebuffing Mrs. Robinson’s first advance, and eventually coming to his senses, he gave in to the temptation in the first place. Sin tends to compound on sin once you willingly let it in, which is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important. Jesus does loves us even though we sin, but Reconciliation heals the rift that we cause. Beyond that, had Benjamin honored his father and mother by asking out Elaine in the first place, all of this would have been avoided. Then again, there would have not been a movie if this happened, though you would get nary a complaint from me. The final nail in this coffin happens at the end, when Benjamin fends off the people in the church with a Cross as he and Elaine make their escape. He then uses it to barricade the door, preventing those inside from giving chase. The Cross can be a weapon, but not in the way it is used or to affect an elopement. It is one of peace and love. Take that, 1960s.
The Graduate is considered to be a classic piece of cinema by many. Clearly, this Catholic reviewer does not agree with that sentiment. Given the subject matter, and the brief moments of nudity, I feel like it should be avoided by most audiences. The whole thing is a sordid affair, and I am not a fan of watching them unfold. I would also not exactly call the ending happy. If you think you must know something about it, perhaps to sound more educated to your peers, then rely on this article. Otherwise, can it.