Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roger Ebert Needs to Make Up His Mind

Hari Arul
Ariana Borgaily
The Graduate

From the beginning of Ben Braddock’s affair with Mrs. Robinson, she has interacted with him through indifference. The only area where this differs is with her daughter, Elaine. It is not surprising then when Ben is forced to take Elaine out on a date that he succumbs to Mrs. Robinson’s wishes and treats Elaine as terribly as possible. Given his encounter with Mrs. Robinson just before he sees Elaine, it is understandable that his concern lies with his current relationship with Mrs. Robinson and not her daughter. Ben’s reckless driving is representational of not only his personality change in his car but also his “compulsive urge to be rude.” Elaine’s attempts to converse with Ben only lead to truncated responses and lack of eye contact mostly due to the sunglasses Ben wears. The sunglasses seem to serve as a mask for Ben as he cannot seem to confront Elaine until he removes the glasses and truly looks at her for the first time without being in the presence of Mrs. Robinson. As Elaine begins crying, there is an immediate shift in Ben’s attitude towards her. Their first kiss after Ben’s mediocre attempts to console Elaine foreshadows the unrealistic nature of their relationship.

Roger Ebert in 1967, gave an overwhelmingly positive review of The Graduate, even referring to it as "the funniest American comedy of the year." He claimed that The Graduate was "a success and Benjamin's acute honesty and embarrassment are so accurately drawn that we hardly know whether to laugh or to look inside ourselves." However, we disagree with his assessment that Ben Braddock "is so painfully awkward and ethical that we...admit we would act as he does," for multiple reasons. First, we believe Ebert does injustice to the thousands of ethical movie characters by calling Ben ethical. How ethical can a character be if he sleeps around with his father's work partner's wife? Secondly, we disagree that Ben's "awkwardness" is justification for acting in the way that he does or that it would make us, the audience, agree that we would behave like him. Furthermore, the material in The Graduate is anything but "handled in a straightforward manner." Ben's actions are often impulsive and poorly calculated as he does things such as take Elaine to the same hotel, Taft, that he is having an affair with her mother in. Yes, Ebert's 1967 review praises the movie, but in a way that insults the truly ethical and relatable characters of other films.

The review of The Graduate that Ebert gave in 1997 was drastically different from his initial interpretation of the movie. Thirty years later, Ebert decides to take back any positive comments he made about the movie in order to refer to it and its characters as "clueless" and "witless." Although it is true that Ben "seems most at home at the bottom of a swimming pool," we do not agree that he is a "clueless hero." Instead we see Ben as confused but always aware of the situation he is in. We don't understand what happened to Roger Ebert between 1967 and 1997 that caused him to have such a vehement reaction to the film. He refers to Elaine as "witless," having "no dialogue of any depth." Perhaps that is how he felt in 1967, but felt too bad giving that review to an under 30 year old Katherine Ross. Apparently because he has nothing better to do, he then rants against "almost-adult son of friends," who he meets at parties, comparing these "mute savages" to Benjamin. We understand if you really dislike your friends, but that is no reason to randomly criticize their 18-25 year old kids in a written review. While we agree that Benjamin and Elaine's reaction to each other at the end of the film suggests a certain wariness, as they have not yet had "a meaningful conversation," that, once again, does not seem to justify a thorough bashing of Benjamin's character as a "self-centered creep," who apparently resonated within all of us in 1967.


Anonymous said...

I agree that The Graduate was not reviewed well by Ebert. He missed the point and discredited himself by the second review in 1997. I think he simply over thought it.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this movie a lot.

I do say that your review sucks, as it doesn't take enough point of view as to there is any real value to be had in the film. How the film achieved or failed to achieve its goals, etc.

Do you feel this film won an academy award for a reason, or just dumb luck?

The fact that Ebert had a very bad day on his second review is very clear. However a real man would never have mentioned it. His epic body of work makes you look small.