The Graduate Motifs
The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichol’s in 1967, is about Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate, who is stuck in the middle of his past and his future - The Graduate Motifs introduction. Throughout the film, you learn that Benjamin is a lonely young man who is confused about what to do since he has graduated. During a graduation party that his parents had thrown for him, with none of Benjamin’s friends because he has none, Mrs. Robinson had asked him to drive her home since her husband took the car. Mrs. Robinson is the wife of Ben’s father’s business partner. When Benjamin drives Mrs.
Robinson home and walks her into her house, she seduces him. During the film, Benjamin begins to frequently meet with Mrs. Robinson to have an affair in a hotel room. Eventually Benjamin falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, and finds a way to her heart at the end. Throughout the entire film, there are many different scenes that include symbolism, important camera angles and context that add to the meaning of the film. In the opening scene of the film, the viewer sees Benjamin, on his way home from college, on a conveyer belt in a suit and tie like a conformist as people pass him by.
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Conformity means being like the rest of the world. The white wall in the background that is greatly visible resembles Benjamin’s emptiness and the blank slate that he has since he is coming home from graduating college. As we see Benjamin in his room in the following scene, the fish tank that is in front of him shows him in a way as though he is inside of the fish tank. As the fish seem as though they are swimming around him face, Benjamin feels trapped in his life as he thinks about what is going to happen next. Following this, his father, Mr.
Braddock, walks into his room and sits right in between Benjamin and the camera, obstructing our view of Benjamin. As Benjamin says how much he just wants to be alone, his father cuts him off while talking as though his father has control of his view and his speech. Finally, Benjamin decides to go down to his own party and is greeted with great excitement by all of his parent’s friends. One of the family friends tells Benjamin “There’s a great future in plastic’s” meaning to be the same as everyone else, there is a successful future.
As Benjamin is sitting in his room, trapped inside of his fish tank, the viewer then sees Mrs. Robinson enter the frame through the door, she has “mistaken” Benjamin’s room for the bathroom. Mrs. Robinson then asks Benjamin to drive her home and he has no choice after he had offered her the car and she insists he drives her. As he enters her home and is offered a drink, there is a specific shot that shows Benjamin through the leg of Mrs. Robinson, showing that she has control over Benjamin’s sexuality.
The camera angles play a big role in The Graduate by giving the viewer more information without the actors actually acting out things. An example of camera angles in The Graduate is when Benjamin is laying on a tube in the pool as he looks up to his father. The viewer then sees Benjamin’s father standing over him with a low angle shot showing that Ben’s father is greater than him. Following this shot, a high camera angle is shown and the viewer sees Benjamin through Mr. Braddock’s eyes showing that Benjamin is less than his father. An important visual motif that is shown throughout the film is water.
There have been many theories on what exactly the water means and why it is shown so much throughout the movie. At the beginning of the film the camera shows Benjamin looking in the fish tank with a scuba diver inside, and in the scene on Benjamin’s birthday we see a flashback of that diver. Benjamin’s parents had bought him a scuba suit for his birthday and they made him put it on and jump in the pool. The scene goes on and all that the viewer hears from Benjamin’s point of view is his breath, the “Sound of Silence” that is mentioned through song throughout the film’s soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkle.
The scene ends with the camera pulling away from Benjamin, turning it from a close up to a long shot, and we see Benjamin trapped inside of the pool, just like the scuba diver in the fish tank is trapped. Another reason why the viewer may see Benjamin looking like he is inside the fish tank is the theory that he is drowning. Drowning could mean that he is submerged in culture and in the way people are making it seem like he has to do things. A second motif that is shown throughout the movie is glass. Glass goes along with the water motif because some of the times that there is water shown, there is glass.
Glass represents Benjamin’s isolation from the world. One example of the glass motif that we see is at Benjamin’s 21st birthday party. The scene starts off with Benjamin up in his room looking through his glass window down at the group of people who are none of his friends, symbolizing his alienation. In the same birthday scene, Benjamin has put on a scuba mask and the camera is shown through Ben’s eyes, looking through the glass of the facemask showing that there is a barrier between him and the world. Another example of glass being used is after
Benjamin has driven Mrs. Robinson home, Benjamin goes upstairs because Mrs. Robinson had invited him to Elaine’s room to look at her daughter’s portrait. When Mrs. Robinson shuts the door behind her, the camera shows Benjamin and Elaine’s portrait with Mrs. Robinson’s figure over the portrait of Elaine, showing that Benjamin has a future with both women. As the movie progresses and Benjamin meets up with Mrs. Robinson at the hotel, he is about to walk inside and opens up the glass door holding it open for a surplus of elderly people to walk out.
Once the elderly people stop progressing out of the door and Benjamin tries to walk inside, a group of young boys and girls start walking in smiling and laughing. The symbolism of this motif may mean that Benjamin is stuck between being young and being older and not knowing where to go next. After Benjamin finally gets in and is met by Mrs. Robinson, he calls her from a phone booth inside of the hotel, isolated inside of the glass. One last example of alienation is when Benjamin takes Elaine out on a date and the two are sitting in the drive in getting to know each other.
During the scene, there are many other kids around them playing loud music and talking loudly and Benjamin asks them to turn down their music. The other kids made their music louder in response to Benjamin’s request, and Benjamin’s reaction was to put up the convertible top to his car, isolating him and Elaine from the noise and that’s when Benjamin invited Elaine into his world of confusion and isolation. Other than water and glass, there are several other little symbols that are shown throughout film. An example of one is the series of smooth scene changes that occur while Benjamin is having his affair with Mrs.
Robinson. The scenes change smoothly by showing Benjamin walking into his house and coming out of the bathroom in the hotel. Another scene change is when Benjamin is laying in his bed and then the camera zooms out and shows him sitting in the hotel bed with Mrs. Robinson getting dressed around him. The symbolism of these scene changes could represent the wasting and the blending of time throughout the affair. One last symbol that is represented in the movie is when Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are arguing over Elaine and how she does not want Benjamin seeing her.
When she refuses to tell him about her past, Benjamin gets up and pulls the bed sheets off of Mrs. Robinson, “exposing” her of her future. Mike Nichol’s directed The Graduate with many motifs and symbols in mind. Mrs. Robinson plays a big part in Benjamin’s growing up and knowing which way to go. Throughout the film it had looked like Benjamin was going to end up like Mrs. Robinson, lonely and drunk, although Benjamin went from being slow and lethargic at the beginning of the film to fast and motivated while running to stop Elaine.
There are many different motifs and important context throughout The Graduate, that add to the many values of the plot. Works Cited Dirks, Tim. “The Graduate (1967). ” AMC Filimsite. American Movie Classics Company LLC, 2010. Web. 13 December 2010. http://www. filmsite. org/grad. html W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. “Chapter 3: Mise-en-scene. ” Looking at Movies. W. W. Norton & Company. Web. 13 December 2010. http://www. wwnorton. com/college/film/movies2/ch/03/essay_ composition_mise_en_scene. aspx