The Graduate (1967)

I’m not going to rehash what everyone else has said about The Graduate. It’s a brilliant film. Exceptionally well acted and directed. I was particularly struck how director Mike Nichols filmed the graduation party in the beginning of the film. Shot entirely in medium close-up, the party shows the the adults pawing and pulling at Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) like a band of zombies.

What I found interesting about this movie — in terms of script structure — is that it’s a perfect example of a reluctant hero. Your classic hero — Indiana Jones for example — has a clear goal and pushes the story of the movie along with his actions. He wants to get to the Ark before the Nazis do and the Nazis try to stop him. Braddock’s ambitions are murkier. He’s almost entirely reactive through the first two-thirds of the movie. His parents foist a party on him, his parents’ friend button-hole him about the joys of plastics, and, of course, Mrs. Robinson, that archtypical cougar, forces herself on him. Braddock only really makes one decision for himself in the whole movie, but it’s a big one. He decides he’s going to marry Elaine. And in spite of the fact that she hates him for doinking her mom and causing the break up of parents’ marriage, she’s in Berkeley and that’s she’s already sort of engaged, he relentless pursues his goal.

This makes him a hero. A lot of movies, especially coming-of-age films, try for a reluctant hero but off fall flat because the character winds up to passive, like The Wackness for example. The Graduate shows how to do it right.

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