The Graduate is an entertaining film: a dramedy centered on a series of awkward and ever more bizarre romantic struggles. First college grad Ben is seduced by his neighbor, and then he decides to stalk her daughter, who eventually gives in and runs away from the man she’s just married. It starts out an understated comedy and transitions into an only-slightly-more-creepy farce, all underpinned by the same couple Simon and Garfunkle songs played over and over. I enjoyed it.
The film was fun to watch because of the dark humor, even as the humor changed from understatement to wacky shenanigans like breaking-and-entering or smacking people with a cross. The editing tricks, like switching from a shot of Ben lunging out of a pool to him landing on top of Mrs. Robinson, were clever, which helped keep the film fresh. Symbolism also added depth. Ben spends most of the first twenty minutes in a tie and sports coat, and that’s the least he wears – he also dons a full scuba suit, leaving no skin visible – but directly after his first tryst, he’s constantly shown in just a bathing suit or boxers. Before Mrs. Robinson, he stays underneath the pool, covered; after, he floats above the water, exposed. Water and clothes symbolize his self-constraints, and this concept is returned to whenever he stares at his aquarium, unsure, in the solitude of his room.
Ben is an entirely motionless character for the first half of the film, and when he does start taking action, he’s the even worse one-note lovesick stalker. Both Ben and Mrs. Robinson seem likeable enough at the beginning: Ben is too static and Mrs. Robinson is too commanding, but failings are understandable in humans. These characterizations, however, go off the rails once Ben moves to Elaine’s college and Mrs. Robinson retaliates by turning into a monster. The plot seems thinner, with less characterization as a result of the fast pacing. The director might to be attempting to make the story more stirring, as Ben chases his love and even beats up a churchful of wedding guests in a climactic battle, but he ends up making all the characters less sympathetic. In the end, I didn’t need to sympathize much in order to enjoy the film for its darkly quirky sense of humor. Which is good, given that I did not sympathize.