When I was a junior in high school, I wrote an eighteen-page research paper on The Graduate and must have watched the film twenty times, meticulously taking notes, doing research and thinking deeply. I went through the entire movie and would pause the movie every few seconds to write down something on a notecard. I think even my teacher would agree that I went a bit overboard with the whole thing, but I was intrigued by the concept of the film, the time period it sought to depict and the music it chose to use. Below is my concluding paragraph of that research paper.
While Ben’s character succeeds in the portrayal of a lost character from the new generation, the film does not succeed as a whole in the portrayal of the entire generation and what it stands for. Nichols does not include many hippies, radicals or even college movements. It seems that the film focuses too closely on the individual problems of Ben and not enough about the rest of the generation. For this reason, the ending of the film is very important to the overall meaning of the film. To the naïve and clueless viewer, the film ends with Ben and Elaine on the bus together, moving off into their eternal happiness. To this viewer, it is a happy ending; Ben will be different as he wishes, and he will also be with Elaine, the only person who understands him. However, to a smart and thoughtful viewer, the ending of the film is depressing and thought provoking. This is because at the end of the film Ben is just as lost as he is in the beginning. The only difference is that he is lost with Elaine now. If the film were to continue for ten more minutes, the viewer would either see that Ben and Elaine end up just like their parents, materialistic and conformist, or that Ben and Elaine split up because they realize they can’t be with each other. No matter which direction the film proceeds, Ben is just as lost as he is in the outset of the film.
After having watched The Graduate for the first time since my junior year in high school, I have slightly changed my opinion about the film. I still think the film tells an incredible story. It is slightly strange to watch the film as a senior in college almost five years after I wrote that research paper. I do see now that the film depicts the feelings of a generation rather than the actual actions of a generation. Every action that occurs in the film is meant to represent the feelings of the “baby boomers”. After having watched the film again, I do feel that the film succeeds in its portrayal of the generation. I’m interested to see what types of films will be made about the millennial generation. Now, it seems that there are so many more important topics to make films about that a generation like the millennials. I’m curious if we have defining characteristics that would fit well in a film.