From the Vault: “The Graduate” at Sixteen

My mom hates Simon & Garfunkel. I neglected telling her that they make up whole soundtrack until we started the movie. I mean, I really just wanted her to watch it. I haven’t seen The Graduate in almost two years, and I’d like to think that within those two years, I’ve sorted myself out a little bit. Since this was my mom’s first time watching, I guess it was mutually my first time. Maybe trying something over again has its benefits, because I know that for the life of me, I could not understand The Graduate at fourteen years old. In this world of “pretty sure” to the resulting “I don’t know,” I think I have a better idea. Actually, I think I have a firm grasp.

It was written that a film like this was weird for its time. But I’ve resolved that it was, as the great contrarian I am, perfect for its time. I am, however, not so jaded to think that this is a film that everybody needs to see, because it really isn’t. But it was and still is a great movie to be taken with its nothing-ness, its lackadaisical dreariness of that purgatory of a life. I think what made this whole narrative resonate very sweetly with me this time around is the working of reflection in its execution: where Ben sees his parents or his surroundings moving, talking to him, but within that pool season of your life, there’s nothing really to say that’s worth its while. Waiting is profound but dreadful, and there’s a lot of it in The Graduate: Ben’s parents are waiting on his decision for the future, Mrs. Robinson is waiting on Ben for the room number, we’re waiting on Elaine to make up her mind on Ben, but Ben is just waiting for this whole bubble to pop. Then there’s a lot of rushing towards the end, towards the climax of Ben stealing away Elaine from her wedding; all too suddenly, everything seems so urgent and screaming for attention, for action, for anything to be done. I get it, I’m not a graduate. The only thing I’ve graduated from is middle school, but still, it’s not very hard to imagine myself in that that pool season, in that fish tank, in that hotel room of my life. And in that regard, I’m sure that this film still retains its resonance and nostalgic legend with that notion that we’re all a graduate of something and after that graduation, there’s a great waiting room to look forward to.

I find my reception of a movie more warm when the movie isn’t trying to be bigger than what it is. Really, I think that the purpose of this movie isn’t what makes it remarkable; because it was such a mediator, that’s why this film is still remembered and why it’s still applicable. There’s no calling for why or how or what a film will be remembered for. Maybe it’s safe to say that 50 years later, this film still rings true to audiences because it reminds us that being in a middle season is okay, that being young and impulsive is okay, and that not knowing is okay, it’s all okay. In such a transformative period of everything in America, this movie is so revolutionary because it wasn’t revolutionary. That’s beauty of euphemism: where understatement in The Graduate means a whole lot more generationally than it would’ve if it were to have been a self-indulgent commentary on the current ethical climate of America. In some ways, however, this is a film of plenty social commentary, but more on the individual level, affecting those who cared to see it most: the graduates.

To be young and willing, that’s where a whole lot of everything and a whole lot of nothing happen. I’m glad this was made. I’ll probably show it to my kids one day. Or maybe I’ll let them show it to me. I’ll tell them how much I hate Simon and Garfunkel, too.

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