American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Well, here *is* to you, Mrs. Robinson: You've survived your defeat at the hands of that insufferable creep, Benjamin, and emerged as the most sympathetic and intelligent character in "The Graduate.'' How could I ever have thought otherwise? What murky generational politics were distorting my view the first time I saw this film? Watching the 30th anniversary revival of "The Graduate'' is like looking at photos of yourself at an old fraternity dance. You're gawky and your hair is plastered down with Brylcreem, and your date looks as if you found her behind the counter at the Dairy Queen. But--who's the babe in the corner? The great-looking brunette with the wide-set eyes and the full lips and the knockout figure? Hey, it's the chaperone! Great movies remain themselves over the generations; they retain a serene sense of their own identity. Lesser movies are captives of their time. They get dated and lose their original focus and power. "The Graduate'' (I can see clearly now) is a lesser movie. It comes out of a specific time in the late 1960s when parents stood for stodgy middle-class values, and "the kids'' were joyous rebels at the cutting edge of the sexual and political revolutions. Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), the clueless hero of "The Graduate,'' was swept in on that wave of feeling, even though it is clear today that he was utterly unaware of his generation and existed outside time and space (he seems most at home at the bottom of a swimming pool).
"The Graduate,'' released in 1967, contains no flower children, no hippies, no dope, no rock music, no political manifestos and no danger. It is a movie about a tiresome bore and his well-meaning parents. The only character in the movie who is alive--who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness--is Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Seen today, "The Graduate'' is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter.
Consider, for a moment, the character of Elaine (Katharine Ross), Mrs. Robinson's daughter. She has no dialogue of any depth. She has an alarming fetish for false eyelashes. She agrees to marry a tall, blond jock (Brian Avery) mostly because her parents will be furious with her if she doesn't. She is so witless that she misunderstands everything Benjamin says to her. When she discovers Benjamin has slept with her mother, she is horrified, but before they have ever had a substantial conversation about the subject, she has forgiven him--apparently because Mrs. Robinson is so hateful that it couldn't have been Benjamin's fault. She then escapes from the altar at her own wedding to flee with Benjamin on a bus, where they look at each other nervously, perhaps because they are still to have a meaningful conversation.
As Benjamin and Elaine escaped in that bus at the end of "The Graduate,'' I cheered, the first time I saw the movie. What was I thinking of? What did the scene celebrate? "Doing your own thing,'' I suppose.