I couldn’t really tell you what my favorite movie is, but I can say that Dustin Hoffman’s first shot to fame, “The Graduate,” is pretty high up on my list. Hoffman plays the protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, the big-shot college student who, after being the university track star, ladies’ man, award scholar and even the editor of the school paper, graduates and finds himself contemplating his next move.
Ben comes home only to find out his parents already had his future all planned out for him, and the plot develops as Ben struggles to fight their plans. In the meantime, he has an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner and the mother of Elaine, the girl his parents want him to marry. After cutting things off with Mrs. Robinson because she forbade him to see Elaine, Ben runs off looking for Elaine with only one goal in mind: to find her and marry her.
This 1967 box-office hit has left me with some of my most important life lessons. Today, I’m going to tell you the five things “The Graduate” has taught me about life.
Avoiding situations won’t solve all your problems, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Stepping aside for a while without overthinking and just letting life happen lets your life unfold naturally and, more often than not, it ends up presenting you with the answers you so desperately needed. Ben focused so much on his parents’ expectations that he became distracted from actually thinking through and crafting his own personal expectations.
You have the right to change your path. No, you will not please everybody, but life should not just be the attempt to live up to your success from the past. Things will fall through in life, and it will be OK because there are many paths to success. Ben is pressured to live up to his college achievements and, for precisely this reason, he has a difficult time diverging toward a path that satisfies him. We all have a different definition of success, and, at least for me, happiness is the key element. Sometimes just knowing what doesn’t make us happy is enough — the rest comes later.
We will all meet a Mrs. Robinson in our lives. No, I’m not talking about having a sexual affair with an older woman, but rather about meeting someone who uses you for their personal satisfaction (whatever that may be). It took Ben a while to realize Mrs. Robinson was just using him as an outlet to release the physical frustrations caused by her broken marriage. There is nothing wrong with this; just make sure you recognize it when it happens so you can find a way to take advantage of the situation as well.
Don’t commit yourself entirely to an idea that stemmed from an impulse or a challenge; you’ll confuse it for a genuine intent when it’s really just a biased reaction. From the beginning of the movie, Ben assumes a rebellious attitude and makes decisions based on his rejection toward everything he is told to do. He goes out of his way to mistreat Elaine on the first date because his parents forced him to take her out but later decides to pursue her simply because Mrs. Robinson prohibits him from seeing her. Some relationships only work out in our heads — or hearts, for that matter. For Ben, the impossibility of having Elaine and the passion he developed challenging her parents’ decision to prohibit him from seeing her blurred his feelings of rebellion until he confused them for love. In the last scene, as the two sit together on the back bench of a community bus after escaping Elaine’s wedding, the adrenaline rush simmers down and their smiling faces turn into expressions of regret. They fell in love with the idea of not being able to be in love, and this ideal led them to realize that once they were actually together, their love affair lost its platonic magic — the magic that fueled their relationship.
Everyone has a story, even the evil Mrs. Robinson. This film shows compassion toward the villain; Mrs. Robinson was forced to leave her aspirations and plans behind when she got pregnant with Elaine during college and had to marry Mr. Robinson. This resulted in a shattered, loveless marriage and the frustration of unaccomplished dreams that haunted Mrs. Robinson for the rest of her life. Even the villains have a story, and we must always be compassionate and keep that in mind.
Having watched the movie for the first time at such a young age, I didn’t yet realize that every time I watch “The Graduate,” there is something new to learn from the story. Ben’s internal conflict is one we can all identify with as students. I must admit I have also found myself confused and worried at times about my life once I graduate college; I’m sure many of you have as well. Hopefully we can all take something from Ben Braddock’s life in the meantime, and for those of you who haven’t seen this movie yet: watch it. Trust me, you’ll be surprised to discover the long list of lessons you’ll take from it, like I did.
Follow Maria Prada on Twitter: @chuzac
As published in the Nov. 14 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.