revisiting “classics” – the graduate

Let’s face it: a movie that’s title sequence theme song is “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel is bound to be cursed. Hello darkness my old friend is RIGHT, and by my old friend I mean the tired tropes of creepy men (and bad actors) portrayed as white knights to the women around them who don’t know how good you are for them. To stalk is to seduce, right?

All-american good boy Benjamin Braddock has just graduated college, and is wallowing in the post-university haze that comes from being the prized only child of an upper-middle class white suburban family. He LOATHES when people ask him about what his future plans are, he’s a little silly and shy when it comes to ladies, and he wants his parents to stay OUT of his love life.

That is, because he’s having an affair with old-enough-to-be-his-mother housewife next door, Mrs. Robinson. That’s right, before obsessively tracking and following the smart and stunning Elaine Robinson, Ben was aggressively pursued by none other than her mother.
It’s like a cycle: Ben’s solid rejections of Mrs. Robinson’s seductive advances violate his boundaries until he wears down and “falls” for her, and thus he doesn’t see anything wrong with the way he relentlessly harasses Elaine until she just can’t say no anymore and releases herself to him.

Mrs. Robinson is a terrible person. I know that being a woman in the 60’s was far from easy, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she clearly and explicitly sexually harasses Ben. He refuses to do more than drive her home, only to be guilted into helping her inside because she’s ‘drunk’ and scared to be in the home along without her husband. The intense amount of gaslighting ben goes through in this uncomfortably long circumstance is too much to count, and it all climaxes when she gets completely undressed, traps and LOCKS ben in HER DAUGHTER’S ROOM, blocking the door with her bare naked ass body, to make sure he knows that anytime, anywhere, she’s available to sleep with him.

Predatory? Absolutely. Harassment? A perfect example. The type of aggressive behavior Benjamin is about to take and project onto her daughter? Yep!

“BENJAMIN: For God’s sake, Mrs. Robinson, here we are, you’ve got me into your house. You give me a drink. You put on music, now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won’t be home for hours.” “MRS. ROBINSON: So?” “BENJAMIN: Mrs. Robinson—you are trying to seduce me… Aren’t you?”

Elaine Robinson. Poor girl. She’s smart, witty, beautiful, and for the most part… absolutely not girlfriend material in anyway to Benjamin Braddock. It’s when, and ONLY when, Mrs. Robinson suggests that he isn’t good enough for her and his parents won’t stop insisting he ask her out, that he calls her up. Out of spite. And proceeds to make the girl so unbelievably uncomfortable during their first date that she doesn’t want anything to do with him.

What’d he do? He takes this girl to a loud strip club, where he KNOWS she will feel intimidated and uncomfortable because of her conservative upbringing, and pokes fun at her insecurity until she can’t stand it anymore and runs out of the venue, on the verge of a breakdown. He chases her down outside the club, where she is crying and pleading desperately with ben to just take her home, she wants to go home.

But what does he do? He takes that as an invitation to cut off her requests to LEAVE by kissing her. Sound familiar? Being an aggressive asshole to someone only to sexually harrass them until you get what you want out of it? Like adultress predatory housewife, like egotistical immature graduate.

Ben Braddock is entitled. He’s lazy. He’s irresponsible and unattractive. Not to mention dustin hoffman is a NIGHTMARE to watch try to fumble through expressing ANY emotion. (whoever told him he could act deserves to be fired and burned). He blames him taking Elaine to a place he KNOWS will make her extremely uncomfortable on his parents, saying they forced him to take her out. Charming, right?

Elaine is written as a sort of innocent, casual girl who is pretty quirky (by that I mean she LOVES fast food french fries), and one that ultimately FLIPS when she finds out a boy she’s seeing HAD AN AFFAIR WITH HER MOTHER. Completely reasonable, and as she slams the door in his face exclaiming she never wants to see him again, any normal person watching this should be able to say, yeah, I get that. A pretty normal reaction.
But not Ben Braddock. No, his honor has been slashed. The girl he disrespected and harrased on their first date, the girl who’s mom he had an EXTENSIVE AFFAIR WITH, no longer wants anything to do with him. And that’s why she HAS to be his. In fact, he’s going to marry her. No, he hasn’t talked to her since the bomb dropped, he doesn’t know anything about her, but hell if he’s not going to be the one to capture this girl.

So he follows her to Berkeley where she goes to school. He doesn’t just follow her for like a day trip, though. He rents a room in a housing complex. He brings his belongings. He stalks her around campus, learning her schedule and patterns, while she has no idea. He runs down her bus when she spots him, only to lie about why he’s in the city, while continuing to hurl questions in her ear while she tries to get him to go away. Only when her date finally shows up does that get him hip to the idea that oh, maybe I should go.

The confrontation between Elaine and Ben when she demands answers at his apartment later is so hard to watch. The writers REALLY didn’t need to throw the curveball that Mrs. Robinson falsely accused ben of raping her to try to “justify” why Elaine is so angry at Ben. Ben’s actions: the affair, the harrassment, the literal stalking— they’re enough to warrant her to Never Want To See Him Again. But no, this isn’t Ben’s fault. The reason Elaine hates him is because her dirty, rotten, lying mother cried rape and made him look bad!!!! The only good part of this scene, and the only good man in this movie is shown when the landlord bursts into Ben’s room with other tenants because he heard Elaine screaming. To this student, the one that insists he is going to call the police because of elaine’s screams: you’re the good one here. Kudos.

This also irks me in the way that popular culture has taught generations (of men) that women regularly falsely accuse men of rape and that it doesn’t Actually Happen that much, even though statistics state that only 8% of accusations are ‘unfounded’, and an even smaller percentage of these falsely accused men were prosecuted. The statistics don’t lie. Just google it, or here’s some info to start with.

This isn’t the end for Ben and Elaine, though. He’s determined, continuously disrespecting Elaine’s protests, time, education, and independence. He brouht his damn birth certificate and bought an engagement ring before he had more than an “I don’t know” out of Elaine. If that doesn’t SCREAM entitlement, I’m not sure what does. This girl LEAVES SCHOOL, tells Ben it’s not going to work out, but he decides to barge into her family’s home, demanding to know where she is. When her mother denies his requests, he insists on loop that “I’LL FIND HER”, while he speeds off in his car.

He lies, sneaks, and manipulates his way through Berkeley to find out where Elaine has gone. Turns out, she’s set to get married THAT DAY to the same boy she met at the park the fateful day Ben chased her down on the bus. When he arrives at the chapel, dude has a full-on, sobbing and WAILING toddler tantrum, yelping her name from the second floor overhang, banging on the plexiglass. It’s like watching a kid meltdown in the target parking lot because he didn’t get a toy on this trip. But he gets the girl, nabbing her away from everyone at the church (and nearly assaulting people with a wooden cross).

This stalked into seduction trope is skeevy bullshit. It enforces the idea that if a boy won’t respect your decisions and space then he’s a romantic who is just making sure you know he’d follow you to the ends of the earth and he’d do anything to have you. The modern version feels like that creepy random dude who calls you an ugly cow because you don’t want to send him nudes, but continuously invades your virtual and personal space because he thinks he is entitled to your time, your body, and your acknowledgement.

News flash, Ben (and all other cishet men): no one owes you. Not elaine, not your parents, not the world. You’re a creepy little bug that is best descibed by Mrs. Robinson when she tells you “I think you are filth. I think you are scum”. And when that’s coming out of the mouth of a cheating manipulator, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re living your life.

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