Koo Koo Ka-Choo, Mrs. Robinson (AFI #17: The Graduate)

April 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

So, I had to go all the way down to #17 on the AFI’s Top 100 list to find a film that’s available streaming on Netflix. I bet they changed most of these titles to “DVD only” the day after the list came out. Bastards.

I had never seen “The Graduate,” incredible as that sounds. I have seen the iconic end scene, as well as references to it in pop culture, but had never actually seen the film.

Filmically speaking, I understand completely why it’s on the list of 100 Best. The shot composition and camera work is stellar, something I would not have noticed before film school. The use of underwater shots does a lot to create the lead character’s aimlessness, confusion, solitude and frustration.

I suddenly came to understand why casting Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as brothers in “Rain Man” was such an inspired idea; young Dustin does remind me at points of Tom. Hoffman does bring the “aimless and awkward” well. This is the first time I’d seen anything with Anne Bancroft in it where she plays anything other than an old woman. I like her performance without completely understanding her character’s motivation.

While I understand that Simon and Garfunkel were popular at the time and therefore probably appropriately used at the time, I found them cloying. Musically speaking, there were certain moments I found myself missing a traditional musical score, and other times I longed for something other than Paul Simon.

To me, the film speaks to a generation of people coming of age who were having to choose between tradition and new ways, what their parents wanted for them versus the ability to decide for themselves. Through that lens, Hoffman’s character does take a growth step, even if he’s still aimless at the end.

I was bothered by the representation of women in this film. Ben’s mother is all but invisible, Mrs. Robinson predatory and vindictive, and Elaine doesn’t seem to have a single redeeming quality that would inspire such rash behavior on Ben’s part. Maybe that’s a generational thing, as back in the 60’s, it was more common for a girl to go to college, only to meet a guy, drop out, and marry him. That part of the story line, I believe, would no longer fly in an age where female college graduates outnumber males.

The main question then: Does “The Graduate” belong on the AFI list? Yes. For filmic composition reasons, for the themes it explored at the time it explored them, and for at least two of the more memorable movie scenes ever. Whether I believe it belongs as high as #17 remains to be seen.

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