While deliberately avoiding the pile of work I have, I decided to watch on of my favorite moves, The Graduate (1967), for the second time. Just like when reading a book for the second time, there are always new treasures to discover while watching a movie again, especially when I can draw my attention away from the general plot of the story and more to the character development, details, overarching themes, and hidden messages of the story being told. For instance, there was one particular scene that the first time I didn’t care for, but this time around grabbed my attention and kept me contemplating it for the entirety of the movie.
Before I get into the details of the scene, allow me to give some context as to what the movie is about for those of you who haven’t seen it. The Graduate, as the title implies, is about the college graduate Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who has just returned home and is now in a quarter-life crisis, considering he doesn’t know what he wants to do in the future. During the night of the graduation party that Ben’s parents have held for him, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), who is Ben’s father’s business partner’s wife, seduces Ben and eventually the have an affair. However, the affair abruptly ends when Ben falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).
The scene that marks the end of Ben’s and Mrs. Robinson’s scandalous affair comes around the halfway point of the movie. Ben and Mrs. Robinson are in the hotel room together, and while Mrs. Robinson just wants to get into bed with Ben as usual, Ben suggests that they have a conversation and get to know each other. After all, they’ve been carrying on this affair for several weeks now, all without knowing much about each other. Therefore, after some convincing and prying, Ben finally gets to know the details of Mrs. Robinsons’ unsuccessful marriage and how she was forced to marry him because she became pregnant with Elaine, something that Elaine has no knowledge about. When Ben brings up the idea of asking Elaine out on a date, something that Ben’s parents and Mr. Robinson have both been insisting on, Mrs. Robinson grabs Ben by the hair and tells him that he must promise that he will never ask Elaine out. Ben is disturbed and outraged by this and demands to know why, to which Mrs. Robinson simply replies “I have my reasons.”
However, despite Mrs. Robinson’s warning, Ben asks Elaine out anyways and falls in love with her, and the rest of the films follows Ben as he tries to get Elaine to marry him while Mrs. Robinson does everything she can to sabotage the relationship.
Mrs. Robinson’s ultimatum struck me and kept me speculating as to what her reasons could possibly be. Why is she so adamant about Ben staying away from Elaine? And after many hours of contemplation, these are my speculations.
1) Ben isn’t good enough for Elaine.
It was the only reason that was explicitly mentioned in the film, when Ben suggests to Mrs. Robinson that the reason she forbids him from seeing Elaine is because she believes he isn’t good enough for her daughter. Despite Ben being an attractive, intelligent, young college grad, he is having an affair with a married woman, which automatically makes him ineligible to date Elaine in Mrs. Robinson’s eyes.
Also, from the moment Mrs. Robinson attempts to seduce Ben, it’s obvious that she is unhappy with the life she has now and wants an affair with a younger man in order to have something in her life that she can look forward to. The viewer gets insight as to what Mrs. Robinson thinks of herself — someone who is neglected, who’s life is ruined and worthless. Therefore, Ben, a person who is willing to stoop down and have an affair with someone like her is someone who isn’t good enough to be with Elaine.
Lastly, Ben is a confused college graduate who has no idea what he wants to do with his future, and isn’t capable of supporting Elaine.
If Elaine gets Ben, it means Mrs. Robinson can’t have him for herself anymore, and Mrs. Robinson is someone who finds Ben to be desirable.
3) Loosing Her Happiness Again
Mrs. Robinson sees Elaine as the reason her life was ruined, draining her of all happiness she had before she got married. If Elaine and Ben end up falling in love, which is a very likely possibility, Elaine will have snatched the one good thing in her life once again.
Mrs. Robinson is secretly jealous of her daughter Elaine, who can get the attention of any successful, attractive guy such as Ben easily. Meanwhile, Mrs. Robinson needs to go out of her way to seduce a guy and make it explicitly clear that she is available to them.
5) Desire to Dominate Elaine and Ben’s Life
In Mrs. Robinson’s eyes, her daughter Elaine and her much younger lover Ben are the only two things in her life that she has control over, and she makes an effort to keep these two people under her control. This will also be taken away from her if Ben starts dating Elaine.