The Clash of Generations in Mike Nichols Movie The Graduate

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Prior to The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967), Old Hollywood studios used to produce films that were aimed at almost everyone. However, after the film’s remarkable success, studios around Hollywood started aiming their films to the younger generation. “An industry report at the beginning of 1968 revealed that 48 percent of all movie tickets in America were now being sold to filmgoers under the age of twenty-four; in other words, the first wave of the baby boom generation had grown up.” (Harris, 2008: p382).

What had made the film such a unique experience to young adults was how anti-adult it was, as well as its main character Benjamin Braddock, who gave the audience a realistic interpretation of what it was like being young during that time. “This is Benjamin. He’s a little afraid of his future.” (The Graduate’s Poster Tagline). Benjamin’s character became a symbol of the culture clash and generation gap between young adults and their parents. Benjamin’s parents are post – war parents who know what goals they want to achieve in life and have fought for them where as Benjamin who is a baby boomer has a different ideology than his parents and thus doesn’t know his path in life.

For example, in the film during the dinner party Benjamin is swarmed by family friends who all ask what he plans to do with his future. He is taken outside and told “Plastics” as the answer to his future. This scene makes a mockery of adults and their obsession with materialistic objects which Benjamin rejects. The younger audience are able to identify with his concern over his future. By rejecting the path his parents and other adults try setting out for him, he ends up on an empty path with no conceptualization of his future. “Benjamin seems such an unlikely Hollywood protagonist precisely because he has no goal. The whole thrust of the film is for him to find one.” (Thompson,1999: p15).

The industries saw the want for anti-heroes who reject the status quo. When discussing how The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967), is seen as a New Hollywood film, it is vital to analyse the cinematography techniques used; particularly the use of camera and sound. The opening of the film adheres to both old and new Hollywood depending on the interpretation. The audience are presented with a close-up of Benjamin’s emotionless face. The audience assume he is alone but then it then zooms out to establish that he is on a plane. The Graduate uses this classical form of storytelling as it is ideally the best way to introduce the audience to the narrative.

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New Hollywood Movies are filled with counter-culture and alienated characters and Nichols uses subtle techniques to convey this. Using the opening sequence again, we see Benjamin on a moving walkway, going from the right to the left, whereas majority of the people walk from the left to the right of the screen. In some societies, left to right movements are seen as an indicator of success. “The Graduate draws more directly on the 1960s culture of youthful alienation.” (King, 2002: p15).

As Benjamin is on the right side of the frame, he is seen as alienated from society as he is interpreted to be going the wrong way in life. The film’s use of a time lapse montage conveys how film editing had evolved. One of its iconic characteristics was the short displays of nudity. With the loosening of censorship laws during the 1960s, Nichols took this opportunity to incorporate certain scenes in the film using split-second cameos (body doubles) in order to enhance the experience of young adults growing up and having their sexual awakenings as well as expand on the film’s theme. These lighting fast cuts are what puts the film away from being seen as classical or old Hollywood. “The kind of deliberate confusion of spatio-temporal relation reflects the influence of 1950s and 1960s European art cinema in Hollywood.

For example, the montage sequence in The Graduate that covers time passing during the early stages of Benjamin’s affair with Mrs Robinson cuts several times between him at home and him with her in their hotel room with Benjamin wearing similar clothes and assuming similar postures.” (Thompson, 1999 p:388). There is a match on action edit, along with continued camera movement and similar costume which help transport Benjamin from his family pool house to his and Mrs. Robinson’s hotel room where their affair continues. It is followed with a graphic match of Benjamin’s head framed against a black headboard in the hotel room and to the similar headboard in his own bedroom.

The last match on action edit takes Benjamin from a floating raft in his pool to a post coital embrace with Mrs. Robinson in their hotel room. The raft-to-bed edit is used to convey how his affairs with Mrs. Robinson are his only escape from his floating around, not knowing what to do with his life. The film’s portrayal of Mrs. Robinson as a sex fiend breaks down gender roles as well. In most classical Hollywood films, it is presumably the men who make the first move when it comes to attracting a woman but, in this film, the roles have been reversed. Despite their relationship being taboo during the film’s release, in contemporary society, relationships representating older women and a younger spouse is seen to be quite normal. This film changed helped changed relationship dynamics in society.

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