I recently received a galley copy of David Thomson’s “Have You Seen…?” (preorder here) a book taking a look at a selection of 1,000 films Thomson deems important to the world of film. They aren’t necessarily the films he considers to be the 1,000 greatest films as some are considered masterpieces while others are considered downright disasters. For those that aren’t familiar with Thomson he wrote the bestselling “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film” in 2004 as well as its original in 1994. “Have You Seen…?” hits shelves in October and I will talk more about it down the line, but right now I have been going through some of its titles to get a better understanding of where he is coming from and right now I want to talk
To Thomson’s credit he seems to go against convention and isn’t willing to say The Graduate is anything more than a “mess” while still saying it is “one of everyone’s favorites.” He is right about one thing, The Graduate is a complete mess and it is a bad movie because of it. However, there are about 10 seconds of this 105 minute film that are worth watching.
Is it the rebellious nature of the sex between Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and Ben (Dustin Hoffman) that caused the hype when in fact only 6 years separated the two in age in real life? Then again was it the age or the adulterous nature of the affair that was so scandalous? Either way, this is a film built on the idea that an older woman is having an affair with a younger man. Are we expected to find this all that surprising, or is it that it was surprisingly seedy when it was released in 1967 that makes the difference? If itâ€™s a generational thing then have at it, it’s just not for me, but if it is something else I don’t see how this film managed to win over so many, including seven Oscar nominations and a win for director Mike Nichols.
To the point, Mrs. Robinson is a disturbed woman and Ben is a socially retarded psychotic that needs to be committed. Seriously, there is something deeply disturbing about this kid that leads me to believe he could go on a killing spree at any moment and yet the disturbed nature of Mrs. Robinson and the complete lunatic that is Ben are never dealt with, not once.
As we follow the path of destruction resulting from the adulterous affair we find Mr. and Mrs. Robinson getting a divorce and Ben stalking their daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) (whom he had a brief love affair with despite Mrs. Robinson’s protests) as she heads to college where the affair picks up once again before it too is undermined by Elaine’s parents and a quick wedding is put in motion to guarantee Elaine and Ben will never be together even though Elaine obviously loves Ben and his stalker ways. You see how screwy this is?
This then moves everything to a church for the final showdown and as the wedding ceremony takes place Ben crashes it, causes a fight, locks everyone inside the church using a cross no less, and Elaine and Ben escape by boarding a bus. After all this time and all this insanity it is here that we get the scene you see in the picture at the beginning of this article and just above. After seemingly getting what they wanted and defying their parents and any and all rational thinking the two have a look that says, “Oh shit, what did we just fucking do?”
On the commentary track with Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh it is Soderbergh that says how the scene wouldn’t have worked without that look and I disagree, the entire movie wouldn’t have worked without that look, and considering that to be true the entire movie is a waste if I have to wait until the final moment to get any kind of intelligence out of anyone in this picture. These are two people that defy logic for the entire film and to give them a moment of clarity in the film’s final moments is to cheat the audience entirely. Just keep them as lovestruck loons and end it, since that is clearly what they are.
Did audiences and critics simply overlook the fact that everyone in this movie was insane or do ten seconds at the end of a 1 hour and 45 minute film make up for everything that happened before it?
How a movie like this is considered AFI’s #7 American movie of all-time just proves to me their list is one of the most thoughtless lists ever devised.