The Graduate & 1960s CounterCulture

Frank Rich (Criterion Collection) reads Mike Nichols’ 1968 film as a text that anticipates a cultural revolution
dustin-hoffman-the-graduate
Dustin Hoffman
Before there was “the Sixties,” there was the relatively more tranquil 1960s. To appreciate the cultural excitement whipped up by The Graduate, it’s useful to recall that it belongs to that quieter part of the decade before the apocalypse. At the time of the film’s Christmas week release in 1967, the national divisions over civil rights and the Vietnam War were raging, but the explosions of 1968—Lyndon Johnson’s abdication, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago riots—were still months away. Yet somehow this movie, technically a romantic comedy with a nominally happy ending, caught the drift of the boomer generation’s growing alienation from the status quo and captured a new zeitgeist that was in the air but had yet to fully take hold. That it did so is all the more impressive given that The Graduate contains not a single reference to a contemporary headline. The characters are uniformly upper-middle-class (or wealthier) and white. The protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, may have just graduated from college but he seems not to have heard of pot, and his many anxieties do not include a fear of the draft. When plot complications propel him from Los Angeles to the University of California in Berkeley, we don’t meet that campus’s radicals but instead some unreconstructed frat guys who seem to have been living in a bubble since the Eisenhower fifties. Just the same, intimations of a brewing youth rebellion ripple through the entire film. The Graduate, an elegant exemplar of old-school high-end Hollywood filmmaking,anticipates the counterculture without ever enlisting in it. [Read More]

 

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