The Graduate is a 1967 American comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols. It is based on the 1963 novel The Graduate byCharles Webb, who wrote it shortly after graduating from Williams College. The screenplay was by Buck Henry, who makes a cameo appearance as a hotel clerk, and Calder Willingham.
The film tells the story of Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), a recent university graduate with no well-defined aim in life, who is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), and then proceeds to fall in love with her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross).
In 1996, The Graduate was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Initially, the film was placed at #7 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list in 1998. When AFI revised the list in 2007, the film was moved to #17.
Adjusted for inflation, the film is #21 on the list of highest-grossing films in the United States and Canada.[
Benjamin Braddock, who will soon turn 21, returns to his parents’ home in the Los Angeles area after graduating from a college on the East Coast. At his graduation party, all his parents’ friends want to know about Benjamin’s upcoming plans for graduate school or a career, something about which Benjamin is clearly uncomfortable and anxious. His parents ignore his anxiety and are only interested in talking about his academic and athletic successes and their plans for him to attend graduate school.
Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner, asks Benjamin to drive her home from the party. She invites Benjamin inside and attempts to seduce him, removing her clothes. She tells Benjamin, who becomes increasingly nervous, that she finds him attractive and wants him to know that she is available to him anytime. Mr. Robinson arrives home but neither sees nor suspects anything. He advises Benjamin that he should relax and enjoy his youth while he still can. A few days later, following a humiliating incident with a well-intentioned but absurd birthday gift from his parents, Benjamin contacts Mrs. Robinson and organizes a tryst at a hotel, and their affair begins.
Benjamin spends the summer floating in a pool by day and meeting Mrs. Robinson at the hotel at night. Through their encounters, Benjamin discovers that they have nothing in common but also learns that Mrs. Robinson was forced to give up college and marry someone whom she did not love when she became pregnant with her daughter, Elaine.
However, under increasing pressure from his parents to begin a career or enroll in graduate school, Benjamin is set up on a date with Elaine, whom Benjamin last saw in high school, by his father and Mr. Robinson. Although Mrs. Robinson has made it clear to Benjamin that he is to have nothing to do with Elaine, Benjamin eventually succumbs to the pressure and takes Elaine out on a date. During the course of their date, Benjamin goes out of his way to mistreat and be rude to Elaine, even going as far as taking her to a lewd strip joint, in order to sabotage the evening. Upon seeing Elaine sobbing, Benjamin kisses her. He explains his motives and that he only asked her out on a date as an obligation from each of their fathers. The two reconcile and each discover that they are able to discuss their current worries and their plans for future happiness.
Upon Benjamin’s arriving at the Robinsons’ home to take Elaine out again, Mrs. Robinson threatens to reveal to Elaine her earlier relationship with Benjamin. However, Benjamin preemptively blurts out the details of his affair to Elaine before Mrs. Robinson can make good on her threat. Upset and heartbroken, Elaine returns to college at Berkeley and severs all communication with him.
Benjamin resolves that he must marry Elaine and follows her to Berkeley. There, he finds Elaine and accompanies her to a date between her and a classmate, Carl Smith. Later that evening, Elaine confronts Benjamin, asking what he is doing there after having raped her mother while she was drunk. Benjamin reveals his side of the story to Elaine and that he was the one who was pursued by Mrs. Robinson, which further upsets Elaine. Benjamin tells Elaine he will leave her alone, but Elaine asks him to remain until he has a plan.
The following day, Elaine confronts Benjamin again and asks him to kiss her. Although Benjamin wants to marry Elaine and presses her to obtain a blood test so they can wed, Elaine laments that she has already told Carl that she might marry him. Mr. Robinson, who has learned about his wife’s affair with Benjamin, goes to Benjamin’s apartment in Berkeley and berates him, threatening to have him prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, should Benjamin ever come near Elaine again. He forces Elaine to drop out of school and takes her away to marry Carl. Elaine leaves Benjamin a note saying that although she loves him, her father’s anger would prevent the family from ever accepting Benjamin as Elaine’s husband.
Benjamin races back south looking for Elaine but finds Mrs. Robinson, who tells him she cannot stop the wedding. Benjamin learns from Carl’s fraternity brothers that the wedding is taking place in Santa Barbara. En route to the church, his car runs out of gas, forcing him to run the final few blocks to the chapel, arriving just in time to see Elaine and Carl, already married, in the traditional kiss. Watching from the loft at the back of the church, Benjamin bangs on the glass window and screams, “Elaine!” several times, in a desperate attempt to win her over. With some hesitation, Elaine returns a cry of “Ben!” and rushes toward Benjamin. A brawl breaks out as everyone tries to stop her and Benjamin from leaving. Elaine manages to break free from her mother, who claims “It’s too late!”, to which Elaine replies, “Not for me!” Benjamin and Elaine escape the chapel by barring the chapel’s double doors with a wooden cross, trapping the attendees inside. Benjamin and Elaine then flag down a bus. After making their way to the back seat of the bus as it pulls away, Elaine in her wedding dress and Benjamin in tattered clothing, they both initially appear ecstatic about their dramatic escape. Gradually however, this exhilaration subsides, with Benjamin just looking forward and Elaine occasionally looking at Benjamin, into realization of what they have done.
In the closing shot, Elaine and Benjamin are shown through the rear window sitting at the back of the bus as it travels down the road.
The film boosted the profile of folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel. Originally, Nichols and O’Steen used their existing songs like “The Sound of Silence” merely as a pacing device for the editing until Nichols decided that substituting original music would not be effective and decided to include them on the soundtrack, an unusual move at that time.
According to a Variety article by Peter Bart in the 15 May 2005 issue, Lawrence Turman, his producer, then made a deal for Simon to write three new songs for the movie. By the time they had nearly finished editing the film, Simon had only written one new song. Nichols begged him for more, but Simon, who was touring constantly, told him he did not have the time. He did play him a few notes of a new song he had been working on; “It’s not for the movie… it’s a song about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.” Nichols advised Simon, “It’s now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt.”
On the strength of the hit single “Mrs. Robinson“, the soundtrack album rose to the top of the charts in 1968 (knocking off The Beatles‘White Album). However, the version that appears in the film is markedly different from the hit single version, which would not be issued until Simon and Garfunkel’s next album, Bookends. The actual film version of “Mrs. Robinson” does appear on The Graduate soundtrack LP.