The Graduate, why it remains relevant 50 years on

Joseph Coupe /
Jun 23, 2017 / Film & TV

The growing disparity between ours and our parents’ generation is not a gap exclusive to millennials, as the Summer of Love’s, The Graduate, remains ever important in defining the politically minded youth of the 60s.

Starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft as duelling representations of the generational divide, the satirical classic is one of the defining films of the late 1960s.

It follows Hoffman’s existential East Coast graduate attempting to keep his head afloat amongst the changing social narratives and sexual customs of the sticky Summer of Love. The idea of an intelligent, yet misdirected, youth who is led astray by an older, materialistic generation captured the spirit of film audiences perfectly at the time – with togetherness and progressive ideals being ultimate themes of the decade.

This year The Graduate marks its 50th anniversary with a UK cinema re-release, and it’s story can still be as easily applied to today’s iGeneration. With the introduction of Anne Bancroft’s character, we are very much opened up to the idea that this is a counterculture film. A married woman engaging in an affair with a much younger man in an effort to define her life and break from the mould would have probably been scandalous for audiences. The affair resonates metaphorically, with so many searching for meaning in the void – and not necessarily in the most productive of places.

The final, and most iconic, shot of the film is one of uncertainty. As Dustin Hoffman’s Ben rescues Katharine Ross’ Elaine from her arranged marriage and board a public service bus, they both find themselves hurtling towards a path which has no real direction. This realisation is beautifully shot, and remains a great cinematic moment. But behind the iconography is an unease which is present in both the context of 1967 and in 2017.

After his graduation, Ben is in a state of flux. Lost and isolated, he can’t help but question whether going to college was even the right thing he could have done. Is he now going to spend a life forced to do a job which is entirely unrelated to his degree, and one which he probably isn’t going to enjoy? And this remains true, and relevant. Flocks of young graduates find themselves working in graduate jobs they didn’t really want, simply trying to keep their head above the tide in the rocky job market.  Many find themselves debating between the safety of their current positions, and pursuing their dreams and potential ultimate happiness. This duality is a strong theme of the film, with both Ben and Elaine finding themselves placed in this position.

In the wake of this years general election, Jeremy Corbyn and his under-25 supporters signalled a stark awakening in the politically minded youth. America in 1967 was in the middle of huge political and social change following the Vietnam war which rings true of the UK following Tony Blair and the war on terror. The rejection of societal and cultural norms seen at the end of the film sent an important message for the youth of the 60s, and also for generations to come.

In its most clear and transparent thematic parts, The Graduate is clearly a film which has barely aged a day since its premiere. Although being released in 1967, uncertainty of the future and searching for an ever-distant meaning resonates beautifully with the adrift, avocado-eating millennials of 2017. Whether a graduate of the 60’s or the 2000s’, you’re going to be able to relate this masterpiece.

 

Words by Joseph Coupe

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