The Story (continued)
The Graduate (1967)
As he lays the purse on Elaine's shelf in her room, Mrs. Robinson enters behind him totally naked, her nudity reflected in the glass which covers her daughter's portrait [foreshadowing the contrasting role that both women will play in his life - one innocent and young, the other older and sexually aggressive]. Locking the door behind her, she startles Benjamin - who turns three times and gasps: "Oh God, oh, let me out." While she calmly offers herself to him, now or at any time later, glimpses of her naked breasts flash before Benjamin's averted eyes, as he glances askance at her:
Mrs. Robinson: Don't be nervous.
Ben: Get away from that door.
Mrs. Robinson: I want to say something first.
Ben: Dear God.
Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin. I want you to know that I'm available to you, and if you won't sleep with me this time...
Ben: Oh, my God.
Mrs. Robinson: ...if you won't sleep with me this time I want you to know that you can call me up anytime you want and we'll make some kind of an arrangement. Do you understand what I...?
Ben: Let me out.
Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin. Did you understand what I said? (Screeching car tires are heard outside in the driveway.)
Ben: Yes, yes, let me out.
Mrs. Robinson: Because I find you very attractive. Now, anytime you want, you just...
Ben: Oh Jesus, that's him.
He pushes her aside, struggles with the door lock, opens the door, and rushes downstairs. The completion of the seduction is prevented by the arrival of Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton). Shaken up, Benjamin pretends as if he has been sitting alone in the sun room having a drink. He whimpers in terror while explaining his agitated state: "I'm just a little worried about my future. I'm a little upset about my future." Mr. Robinson engages him in a fatherly chat, advising him with a nightcap to sow a few wild oats at his nearly 21 years of age:
I wish I was that age again because Ben...you'll never be young again...Ben, can I say something to you?...uh, how long have we known each other now? How long have you and I known each other? How long have your dad and I been partners?...I watched you grow up, Ben...In many ways, I feel as though you were my own son...So I hope you won't mind my giving you a friendly piece of advice...(Mrs. Robinson's upstairs door slams, announcing her imminent entrance) I think you ought to be taking it a little easier right now than you seem to be...Sow a few wild oats, take things as they come, have a good time with the girls and so forth...You have yourself a few flings this summer. I'll bet you're, you're quite a ladies man...You look to me like the kind of guy who has to fight 'em off. (To Mrs. Robinson) Now doesn't he look to you like the kind of guy who has to fight 'em off?
During their chat, Mrs. Robinson appears in the out-of-focus background between them, descends the stairs, and loudly marches into view, approving of her husband's "sound advice." [Only one scene later, Ben has been motivated to follow Mr. Robinson's counsel "to sow a few wild oats."] As he leaves, the unsuspecting Mr. Robinson suggests that Ben give his daughter Elaine a call after she returns from Berkeley the next Saturday.
In the next scene at the Braddock's house, Benjamin is celebrating his 21st birthday - a crucial bridge year between youth and adulthood. As customary, his parents have thrown another party for him, again inviting only their own friends. Once more separated by a pane of glass, Benjamin is poised behind the curtained and glassed-in patio door waiting for his entrance as the "featured attraction." He has reluctantly agreed to show off and model his major birthday present for the adult guests - a new scuba diving outfit. Uncertain of where he wants to go, totally alienated, and trapped in an unknown world, Ben appears wearing scuba gear (again viewed subjectively from his own point-of-view through the glass of the mask). His perspective reveals his parents' distorted faces and words that he cannot comprehend ('sounds of silence'). He moves ponderously, with his fins on, through the crowd, and submerges himself at the bottom of his parents' pool for peace and silence (except for the sound of his own rhythmic, heavy breathing). He appears to remain there covered by the water indefinitely - never surfacing from underwater.
While still in the pool, Benjamin's voice-over is heard in the next scene. Only one scene after fighting Mrs. Robinson off, he is phoning her from a glassed-in phone booth at the Taft Hotel. [Here is another image of glass - covering Ben this time.] Benjamin suggests eagerly but apologetically that they rendezvous there for a date:
Benjamin: Look, I was thinking about that time after the party.
Mrs. Robinson: Where are you?
Benjamin: And I was wondering if I could buy you a drink or something?
Mrs. Robinson: Where are you?
Benjamin: Uh, the Taft Hotel.
Mrs. Robinson: Did you get a room?
Benjamin: No. Now I know it's pretty late and if you'd rather...
Mrs. Robinson: Give me an hour.
Mrs. Robinson: I'll be there in an hour. (She hangs up)
He acquiesces to her offer of an affair as a symbolic means to save himself from 'drowning' in the surrounding materialistic sub-culture. Behind him, young, formally-dressed couples are gathering for a prom. The hotel is also filled with well-dressed elderly couples. As young Benjamin opens the glass lobby door of the hotel to enter, he must hold it open so that a long string of elderly guests of a different generation can exit. When they have passed and before he can enter, a group of prom-goers race by him into the hotel - obviously, he cannot identify with either the older or the younger generation.
While waiting for Mrs. Robinson to arrive, the conservatively-dressed young graduate strolls over to the front desk where the unperturbed clerk (Buck Henry) notices his agitated demeanor:
Desk Clerk: Can I help you, sir?
Ben: What? Oh, no. I'm just...
Desk Clerk: Are you here for an affair, sir?
Desk Clerk: The Singleman party, sir?
Ben: Oh yes, the Singleman party.
Desk Clerk: It's in the main ballroom.
Ben: Ah, thank you.
Benjamin semi-accidentally wanders into a formal party hosted by the Singlemans, an upper-class, affluent family. He is greeted in the reception line and encouraged to join the party - accepted by and associated with its lifestyle - even though his name isn't on the guest list. He declines: "I'm not with your party, sorry." Mr. Singleman wonders: "Hey, I don't get it."
While waiting for Mrs. Robinson in the bar, almost invisible and powerless, he has difficulty getting someone's attention to order a drink. Mrs. Robinson, wearing a predatory leopard-spotted coat, appears in the reflection of the glossy table top. With some patient prodding and questioning, she sees how weak-knee-ed he has become and suggests that she'll get a room if he doesn't want to. With a twinkle in her eye, she is amused while watching his discomfiture and prods him into action:
Mrs. Robinson: Did you get us a room?
Mrs. Robinson: Have you gotten us a room yet?
Benjamin: I haven't, no.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you want to?
Benjamin: Well, I don't...I mean I could. Or we could just talk.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you want me to get it?
Benjamin: You? Oh no, I'll get it.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you want to get it now?
Mrs. Robinson: Yes.
Benjamin: Well, I don't know.
Mrs. Robinson: Why don't you get it?
Benjamin: 'Why don't I get it?' Well, I will, and if you'll excuse me.
Again, Ben thoroughly embarrasses himself in the process of checking in with the desk clerk, certain that the hotel employee knows his intentions. (His discomfort is similar to what a male must feel when first purchasing condoms from a female clerk):
Ben: A room. I'd like a room please.
Desk Clerk: A single room or a double room?
Ben: A single just for myself, please.
Desk Clerk: Will you sign the register, please? (Ben rips off the first card of the register and stuffs it in his pocket.) Anything wrong, sir?
Ben: What? No, nothing.
Desk Clerk: Do you have any luggage, Mr. Gladstone?
Ben: Luggage? Yes, yes, I do.
Desk Clerk: Where is it?
Desk Clerk: Where is your luggage?
Ben: Well, it's in the car. It's out there in the car.
Desk Clerk: Very good sir, I'll have a porter bring it in. (The desk clerk rings the desk bell.)
Ben: Oh no. (Ben covers the bell with his hand.) I mean, I, I'd rather not go to all the trouble of bringing it all in, I just have a toothbrush. I can get it myself, if that's all right?
Desk Clerk: Of course. I'll have a porter show you the room.
Ben: Oh, well, actually I'd just as soon find it myself and, just have a toothbrush to carry up and I can handle it myself.
Desk Clerk: Whatever you say, sir.
Ben: Thank you.
Rather than go up together and cause suspicion, Benjamin phones Mrs. Robinson in the hotel bar from the glassed-in lobby phone booth [his symbolic fishbowl] - only a few feet away. He can be seen behind her through the glass window of the bar: "Can you look through the glass? Can you see me now?" Separated by panes of glass from his love object, he arranges to meet her upstairs in a single, luxury hotel room - number 568. Feigning sleepiness and assuring the desk clerk that he has his toothbrush, Benjamin walks down the long hotel corridor to his room. After entering, he tests the lights and stands in the dark shadows surveying the room. To insure privacy, he closes the blinds and then brushes his teeth in the bathroom.
Benjamin's first fearful but lustful bedroom encounter with the calm and almost businesslike Mrs. Robinson is memorable. After she turns on the light upon entering, he almost immediately moves the "Don't Disturb" sign to the outside of the door, sets the door lock, and turns the lights back off. He kisses her before she can exhale smoke from a drag on her cigarette. Aggravating his bad case of nerves by her coolness, she starts to undress and he agrees to watch, and then clumsily retrieves a hanger for her clothes. He asks, ridiculously: "Wood or wire? They have both." Then, he spontaneously grabs Mrs. Robinson's right breast [an unrehearsed and impulsive move on Hoffman's part] and then bangs his head against the wall in frustration [actually to hide his laughter in reaction to Bancroft's unmoving response], babbling moral platitudes and resolving to end the affair before it begins. He cannot believe that an older married woman, one of his parents' best friends, is seducing him:
Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin, would this be easier for you in the dark?
Ben: Mrs. Robinson. I can't do this.
Mrs. Robinson: You what?
Ben: This is all terribly wrong.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you find me undesirable?
Ben: Oh, no, Mrs. Robinson. I think, I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends. I mean that. I find you desirable, but I, for God's sake, can you imagine my parents? Can you imagine what they would say if they just saw us in this room here right now?
Mrs. Robinson: What would they say?
Ben: I have no idea Mrs. Robinson, but for god's sake, they brought me up, they made a good life for me and I think they deserve better than this. I think they deserve a little better than jumping into bed with the partner's wife.
Mrs. Robinson: Are you afraid of me?
Ben: Oh, no. You're missing the point. Look. Maybe we could do something else together. Mrs. Robinson, would you like to go to a movie?
Mrs. Robinson: (After a long pause) Can I ask you a personal question?
Ben: Ask me anything you want?
Mrs. Robinson: Is this your first time?
Ben: Is this what?
Mrs. Robinson: It is, isn't it? It is your first time.
Ben: That's a laugh Mrs. Robinson. That's really a laugh. Ha, ha.
Mrs. Robinson: Well, you can admit that, can't you?
Ben: Are you kidding?
Mrs. Robinson: It's nothing to be ashamed of.
Ben: Wait a minute.
Mrs. Robinson: On your first time if you're afraid of being inadequate.
Ben: Who said it was my first time? Wait a minute.
Mrs. Robinson: Just because you happen to be inadequate in one way.
Ben: INADEQUATE! (Mrs. Robinson starts to dress.) Don't move!
She accuses him of being an inexperienced virgin. An outraged Ben slams the bathroom door, extinguishing all light in the room. In the darkness, the soundtrack reprises, The Sounds of Silence: "Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..." The scene dissolves to bright patches of sunlight flickering on the Braddock's swimming pool surface, where Ben sunbathes on a black inflatable raft, drinks beer, and wears wrap-around sunglasses to shut out the glare of the external world. During the summer, Benjamin passively spends most of his time either hanging around his affluent parents' swimming pool where his parents often barbecue, or in a hotel bed in a long-term, inarticulate and loveless affair with Mrs. Robinson. He doesn't join the rebellious counter-cultural youth of his generation, preferring instead to mirror his own upper middle-class values.
[During the next sequence, the soundtrack plays Sounds of Silence first, then April Come She Will, to emphasize Ben's emptiness and to chart the progress of his passionless affair:
April, come she will...
May, she will stay, resting in my arms again,
June, she'll change her tune...
July, she will fly, and give no warning to her flight,
August, die she must, the autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I'll remember a love once new has now grown old]
With a clever transitional device and a montage of images, suggesting the emptiness and joylessness of his life, he walks back and forth transparently between these two pursuits and worlds. He rolls off the raft in the backyard pool, pulls on a white shirt, and enters a doorway to the Braddock home. Through the door, he emerges into the hotel room (a Hotel Taft towel hangs on the inside of the bathroom door), where Mrs. Robinson (with her back to the camera) is removing her necklace. He lies against the bed's mostly-black headboard, as Mrs. Robinson (in a black bra and slip) sits next to him, leans over, unbuttons his white shirt (one button at a time), and caresses his chest. Benjamin blankly stares into space against a black background - the image emphasizes his sterile environment. He rises from his bed, walks to the door (now in his own house) to shut it - briefly glimpsing his parents eating dinner in the dining room and worriedly gazing at him. After reclining to watch TV on a black chair, a jump-cut shows him back in the Taft Hotel bedroom, watching television and drinking a beer while resting against the bed's headboard. A female figure in a white bra walks past in front of him and the television, dresses, and leaves the room. His reflection is shown in the hotel bedroom's mirror. Then in another cut, he is resting against a black pillow in his own bedroom. He puts on his swimming trunks, grabs a towel, leaves his room, passes his mother, and dives into the backyard pool.
One of their many sexual contacts is symbolized by his rising up onto a inflatable rubber pool raft (after the dive), inter-cut with his landing on top of Mrs. Robinson in the hotel bed. In another disorienting cut from their sexual coupling to his lounging on a raft in the backyard pool, the sound precedes the picture when his father asks:
Ben, what are you doing?
He turns and squints toward his despairing father who stands over him by the pool and questions his continued laziness and lack of direction. His father insists on knowing the point of his four years of college - without plans for graduate school or a career. He peers through his dark sunglasses at the silhouette of his father above him, as he is asked the question:
Mr. Braddock: Ben, what are you doing?
Ben: Well, I would say that I'm just drifting here in the pool.
Mr. Braddock: Why?
Ben: Well, it's very comfortable just to drift here.
Mr. Braddock: Have you thought about graduate school?
Mr. Braddock: Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?
Ben: You got me.
He is either unable to communicate with his parents about his problems, or he is dishonest. Mrs. Braddock and then the two Robinsons flank Mr. Braddock. His mother encourages him to say hello to Mrs. Robinson. Her black silhouette dissolves into a scene of Benjamin shaving in a foggy bathroom - he is not in the Taft Hotel but at home - his mother enters and asks him about his nocturnal absences. He perfunctorially explains: "I drive around...nothing else," drawing blood from his finger when questioned if he is meeting someone. He feels miserable having to lie - his mother recognizes his deception: "I don't want to pry into your affairs, but I would rather you didn't say anything at all and be dishonest. Good night." When she leaves and he calls after her: "Wait - wait a minute!", the scene again blends back - in mid-sentence, to another hotel rendezvous with Mrs. Robinson.
Benjamin wants to talk with her first, feeling a need to communicate beyond the physical. He naturally assumes that physical sex and emotional intimacy should go together. Struggling with his own disintegrating sense of self-worth, he forlornly attempts to instill more meaning in their relationship than actually exists, by initiating an awkward conversation:
Ben: Will you wait a minute, please? (He turns on the light) Mrs. Robinson, do you think we could say a few words to each other first this time?
Mrs. Robinson: I don't think we have much to say to each other.
Ben: (He turns the light off) Look, for months, all we've done is come up here and leap into bed together.
Mrs. Robinson: Are you tired of it?
Ben: I'm not. No. But do you think we could liven it up with a little conversation for a change?...Now look, we're going to do this thing. We're going to have a conversation. Tell me what you did today?
Mrs. Robinson: (She sighs heavily.) I got up. I fixed breakfast for my husband.
Ben: There. There's something we could have a conversation about. Your husband.
Mrs. Robinson: Ohh, him.
Once their conversation is started, he pries into her married life, asking questions about the Robinsons' marriage and their daughter Elaine. He learns that she married because she unexpectedly became pregnant after having sex in a car:
Ben: What kind of car was it?
Mrs. Robinson: What?
Ben: Do you remember the make of the car?
Mrs. Robinson: Oh my God.
Ben: Really, I want to know.
Mrs. Robinson: It was a Ford, Benjamin.
Ben: A Ford! A Ford! God-damn-it, that's great, a Ford!
Mrs. Robinson: That's enough.
Ben: So old Elaine Robinson got started in a Ford.
Mrs. Robinson: Don't talk about Elaine.
Mrs. Robinson objects to talking deeply about herself, her interests, and especially about Elaine - "a big taboo subject all of a sudden." He stirs her fierce jealousy when he shows an interest in her daughter:
Ben: Well, I guess I'll have to ask her out on a date and find out what the big deal is.
Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin. (Pulling his hair.) Don't you ever take that girl out. Do you understand that?
She is adamantly opposed to Benjamin's dating Elaine, and Benjamin hesitantly insists on knowing why:
Ben: Well, why shouldn't I?
Mrs. Robinson: I have my reasons.
Ben: Well let's hear 'em.
Mrs. Robinson: No.
Ben: Let's hear them Mrs. Robinson, because I think I know what they are. I'm not good enough for her to associate with, am I? I'm not good enough to even talk about her, am I?
Mrs. Robinson: Let's drop it.
Ben: We're not dropping it. I'm good enough for you, but I'm not good enough to associate with your daughter. That's it, isn't it?
Mrs. Robinson: Benjamin.
Ben: (Ripping the sheet off her.) Isn't it?
Mrs. Robinson: (Covering up) Yes.
Ben: You go to hell. You go straight to hell, Mrs. Robinson.
For the first time, a normally passive Benjamin asserts himself. "Not proud" of his affair "with a broken-down alcoholic," he hurriedly dresses himself, telling her:
Mrs. Robinson, this is the sickest, most perverted thing that ever happened to me.
With self-loathing, Mrs. Robinson believes herself to be a "sick and disgusting person" in his eyes. She draws out sympathy for herself, and he admits that their affair is enjoyable: "Look, I like you. I wouldn't keep coming here if I didn't like you...I enjoy it. I look forward to it. It's the one thing I have to look forward to." To keep their affair intact and before having sex, she forces him to promise:
All right, I promise, for Christ's sake, I promise never to take out Elaine Robinson...Let's not talk about it. Let's not talk at all.