The first time I saw The Graduate (1967, the year it was made), I was a junior in high school, and I thought it was a great movie. I saw it again about 25 years ago, and was happy to discover that it still worked for me. And I saw it again last night and still liked it. It had passed the test of time. But my response to it this time was different.
In 1967, I loved it because it seemed to perfectly depict what was then called “the generation gap” – the moral and intellectual gulf between my generation and our parents. I identified strongly with Ben, the main character (played very cleverly by Dustin Hoffman). I approved of the plot and the implicit critique of upper-middle-class values. I also liked the many cinematic tricks director Mike Nichols employed, the clever cuts and overlaps. And, of course, I loved the score, which was written by Paul Simon.
Watching it for the third time last night, I found the plot to be just as compelling, the music nostalgically engaging, and the cinematic effects dated but still effective. What was different was that I had difficulty identifying with Ben… and the moral dilemma of the story disturbed me. I could no longer see Ben as a sympathetic character. I was with him 100% in his inability to resist Mrs. Robinson, but I couldn’t excuse him for falling in love with and then courting her daughter. Fifty-one years later, I was no longer identifying with the 20-year-old Ben but with the husband he cuckolded.