The Graduate – Cultural Significance

885 words (4 pages) Essay in Film Studies

02/06/17 Film Studies Reference this

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The Graduate is a 1960s American film based on the novel of the same name by Charles Webb. The film tells a story of a university graduate named Benjamin Braddock who did not have a clear idea about his future. The young man was seduced by an old woman, Mrs. Robinson, but he fell in love with her daughter Elaine in the end. The film reflects the confusion and helplessness of the American young people in the 1960s. The characteristics of the counterculture movements were also shown in the movie. Consequently, instead of just being a comedy, the graduate plays an essential role in reflecting and promoting the culture and ideology of the 1960s America. It shows more sympathy than satire to the young generation at that time.

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The film starts by showing Benjamin’s void, loneliness and helplessness, which can be clearly seen from his facial expression. The theme song”sound of silence” also expresses a stuck and hollow feeling, which actually is the keynote of the whole movie. There is a conversation between Ben and his father at the beginning of the movie, when Ben’s father ask him what he is worried about, Ben hesitantly answers he does not know and he just wants his future to be different. Being the keynote of the film, the hollow feeling lasts till the end of the movie. At the end of the movie, when Ben and Elaine escape from the church and sit in the bus, their facial expressions are actually very calm, which is quite different from their happiness and excitement when running away from the church. Although they have extricated themselves from the shackle of their family and made their own choices, they still do not know what to do next. This kind of hollow feeling shows exactly the ideology of the young people living in the 1960s America. Unlike the older generations who had a strong idea of the “America dream”, young people in the 1960s did not experience the hardship caused by war and there was a generation gap between them and their parents. The older generation hoped the young people could cherish their peaceful life and continue to fight for the “America dream”, but the young generation did not understand why they need to do that and their dream of achieving social justice is slightly ideal.

The difference in the sense of value between two generations is also shown in the film by the conversation between Ben and his father, which can further reflect the opposite attitude of the young people at that time towards the traditional sense of value. The two different values had conflicted with each other for several years, and in the late 1960s, there was a strong dissatisfaction of the current social situation and the sense of value of the middle class among the young people. With the outbreak of the Vietnam War, both the counterculture movement and anti-war movement reached the peak in around 1967, and The Graduate exactly shows the idea of counterculture of the young people at that time.

Anti-war movement is an essential part of the 1960s American society. One scene in the film is that Ben tiredly sits in the campus of Berkeley when the national flag of America is waving high above his head. Berkeley is one of the most active campuses during the anti-war movement in the 1960s. It becomes world-famous for the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the strike against the Vietnam War organized by the students at that time. The anti-war movement showed the young people’s sense of social responsibility and their desire for a peace world. The draft for a compulsory military service is one of the main reasons for all kinds of anti-war protests. Under the draft, lots of young people were sent to Vietnam and many of them died, which made their families suffer a lot.

Hippie is another good illustration of the youth culture at that time. Hippies were against the mainstream and reacted to the difficult times by dropping out of the society. There is one scene in the film that shows the hippy culture. When Ben and Elaine are eating and talking in the car, there are some hippies playing rock music beside their car. However, instead of turning down the music as required by Ben, those hippies turn up the volume and keep playing the music. Their reaction shows the idea of counterculture and disapproval of the social mainstream. Being a symbol of the 1960s youth culture, hippies are remembered for their fancy clothes and deviant behavior like taking psychedelic drugs.

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Sexual revolution is a part of the counterculture movements in the 1960s and it is shown in the movie by Mrs. Robinson’s seduction behavior. This new culture of “free love” encouraged millions of young people to accept the beauty of sex as a natural part of everyday life. Besides this reason, Ben’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson is partly due to another factor, which is his loneliness and helplessness.

The 1960s is a crossroad in the whole American history. The Graduate is of great importance in recording that period of history, especially the behavior and thought of the young people at that time.

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