Blu-Ray Review: The Graduate

Published on February 25th, 2016 in: Movie Reviews, Movies, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Jeffery X Martin

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Mike Nichols’ film from 1967, The Graduate, is a darkly humorous ode to the disenfranchised and distant. It’s also a definitive bad romance. The movie has a lot to say about toxic people and how they can mess up your life. Then again, pretty much everyone in The Graduate is toxic.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has graduated college and is staying with his parents for the summer. His family is affluent and out of touch. Braddock wants his future to mean something, but damned if he knows what. He doesn’t want the white bread existence of his family, and he has no desire to waste time in graduate school.

He winds up in a depressing sexual relationship with the wife of one of his father’s business partners, the alluringly alcoholic Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). It’s strictly physical and mildly degrading all around. The Robinsons have a daughter named Elaine (Katharine Ross), with whom Mrs. Robinson forbids Benjamin to have any contact. That doesn’t go well. Forced to take her on a date by his father, Braddock flips for Elaine.

But how do you tell the girl of your dreams that you’ve been banging her mother for months?

The Graduate is kind of a weird flick. It’s not the movie you expect to have a soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel, but Nichols uses their song “Sound of Silence” almost incessantly. That’s cool, because he’s making a point about how detached everyone in this movie is. No one talks to each other; not even Braddock and Mrs. Robinson, and they are having sex. Cold, emotionless sex.

Braddock is a lost soul, waiting for a revolution to begin, but having no idea how to kick his own life into motion. Mrs. Robinson is gorgeous, but she’s also a terrible, manipulative person. Elaine, poor kid, is as innocent as a Berkeley student can be, but Braddock makes her feel dirty as soon as they meet. There is no reason to like any of these people. If The Graduate deals in anything, it’s empathy. We can get behind why Braddock would rather float in the pool than go get a haircut and a real job. We also know intuitively why Mrs. Robinson stays in her loveless, sexless marriage. Her stilted, businesslike attempt for affection by reaching out to Braddock is unforgivable, but understandable.

These are timeless emotions, resonating from the late 1960s until now. They are why The Graduate is still a popular film, and a perfect addition to the Criterion catalog. Nichols’ visual sense is brilliant. Small details push the story along and reveal more about the characters than the dialogue does.

The Blu-Ray transfer is fantastic, revealing excellent bits of business. This movie is a wallpaper fan’s dream. There are so many weird patterns, all in perfect 4K digital. You can see the varied colors in Mrs. Robinson’s hair, strangely copied by Elaine without acknowledgment. It’s all really pretty, and the surroundings are often many times nicer than the characters in the film.

Special stuff includes two commentaries, a new interview with Dustin Hoffman, screen tests, the trailer, and an excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show, in which he interviews Paul Simon. Simon comes across as far too serious, and that equals unintentional hilarity. More like Douchebag & Garfunkel, am I right?

The Graduate is an important film. It’s shoegaze before we overused the term “shoegaze,” but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. If you can get past the awfulness of all the people involved, you’re in for some subdued entertainment. All the major themes of the story have aged well and still ring true. We’ve all felt like we don’t belong.

But we were still the people we were. There was no personality annihilation. The people in The Graduate do things for no reason, with no thought to the consequences of their actions. So, is The Graduate a mediocre movie about sad people, or a great movie about assholes?

Yep.

The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of The Graduate was released February 23.

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