There are only a few in my circle who are still in their 20’s, all of them are obsessed with the 80’s. I’m not sure why. I lived through the 80’s and to me it was characterized by ska and new wave music, a half-hearted rejection of the previous generation and a luxuriously bland sense of contentment. Maybe the current 20-somethings are drawn to the decade out of novelty or maybe they perceive it as a happier era.
I, on the other hand, am still obsessed with the 60’s. I’ve asked people now in their 60’s about their experiences in the 60’s. What I gather is that is was an era or maybe THE era of extreme generation gap. The kids of the 60’s completely rejected their parent’s lifestyles; the focus on shallow materialism, blind-eye adherence to societal protocol and keeping up appearances. While the kids of the 60’s went to many extremes in their day and have, from my view, now calmed down, they have no regrets and occasionally, they still fire up that rebellious streak so often noted.
The Graduate, which has been on my watch list for decades, seemed to embody that decade’s extremes almost perfectly. You have Ben, the recent college graduate, who becomes physically involved with Mrs. Robinson, a friend of the family, and romantically involved her daughter, Elaine. This triangle has many dramatic moments, but mostly I found the film to be reflective almost to the point of introspection.
Mrs. Robinson, to me, represented the older generation in the 60’s. She was calculating, controlling, all to the end of getting what she wanted, however ephemeral. Negative consequences would simply be swept under the rug with a poker face and stiff afternoon cocktail in hand. Elaine, on the other hand, represented the new; honesty and transparency with an altruistic agenda. Ben was simply the pivot between the two worlds. While attracted to the older generation for some sense of carrying on his parent’s lifestyle, he was often repulsed by the continuity, which lead him to rebel by seeking out Elaine.
Ironically the leads – Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross were all around 30 when the film was made, even though Bancroft’s character was in her 40’s and Hoffman & Ross characters were 20. Makeup and wardrobe certainly helped to create different appearances, however Bancroft beautifully imparted a world-weary sense of regret and self-destruction to Mrs. Robinson, which contrasted starkly against the naive, fumbling Ben and the sweet-natured Elaine.
The filming style, which made good use of long, narrow hallway framing and strobe-light sequences really helped to underscore the generational separation and discord.
The soundtrack, almost exclusively Simon & Garfunkle, also helped to capture the movement of the 60’s; the harmony, sometimes coming together but often simultaneously high and low.
While the spirit of the 60’s resurfaces erratically in today’s society, I doubt it will ever be reproduced to its original zeal. For those of us who missed the era, The Graduate is a good essay on the it’s underlying counterculture movement as well as a vehicle for a few career-defining performances.