25 September 2011

The Graduate (1967)

   Mike Nichols' classic film, The Graduate, is considered one of the most groundbreaking films of the 1960's and uses intricate aspects of mise-en-scene to depict the main character's internal struggle with modern society and expectations. As The Film Experience (Corrigan and White) suggests, the aspects of this film stand out because of their ability to expose "cultural hypocrisies" and exploite "fantasies and fears" (390).

   Having just returned home after a long and apparently successful college career, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself confused and lost at the idea of starting his own adult life, apart from his parents. Despite the high hopes of his family and friends, Benjamin bleakly acknowledges his future in a "plastic" society. It is not until the wife of his father's business partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) seduces him and develops an affair with him that Benjamin sees his summer (and entire future) taking a new direction. One thing he didn't expect, however, was falling in love with the Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). Set in it's own time (1967), the film portrays a realistic and typical setting. One of the more subtle, but vital aspects of The Graduate's mise-en-scene, however is the use of costuming. While this aspect may not appear to be anything extraordinary, a closer look will reveal the symbolic meaning and importance of every detail in the style and the color of each costume.

   "How actors are costumed and made up can play a central part in a film, describing tensions and changes in the character and the story" (The Film Experience, 77). From the very beginning of the film, Benjamin's clothing reveals a great deal about his state of mind and place in his society. He comes home from school with a typical, polished look including a dark suit jacket and tie. Once he arrives at his homecoming party, he immediately blends in with the crowd and appears to be the successful adult that everyone hoped for and expected.This particular outfit reveals Benjamin's conformity after his college life and implies that he has no grand plans for his adult life. Throughout the opening scenes and through the seduction process with Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin can be seen in his attire. They suggest an attachment to the bourgeois lifestyle, despite his hopes of breaking free into his own future- a sentiment that is perhaps grounded in the high expectations of his family and friends. The dark colors reveal his melancholy state of mind while at the same time foreshadowing the sinful situation he will later find himself in.

  Later in the film, however, after the termination of his affair with Mrs. Robinson and his new infatuation with Elaine, Benjamin's clothing is more casual and lighter colors are introduced. This can first be seen when Benjamin goes against Mrs. Robinson's orders and goes on his first date with Elaine. He's still in a proper jacket and tie, but the color is white- thus foreshadowing his "redemption" and new life that will be found in his relationship with Elaine. Even through his trip to Berkley and chase to stop Elaine's marriage, the clothing is lighter and more freeing. In contrast to the previous outfits, this becomes a clear picture of Benjamin's new perspective and chase after the life he wanted.

  In the same way, the costumes of Mrs. Robinson and Elaine contrast greatly and reveal their different characteristics and roles in Benjamin's life. While Elaine is pictured as soft, gentle, and innocent with her fashionable and lightly colored clothing, Mrs. Robinson is constantly seen in garments of greys, browns, and blacks. We first see her in a form fitted and elegant grey dress-foreshadowing her seductive nature. One of her more noticeable pieces is her leopard patterned coat and trim on her black dresses. This significant detail to her clothing portrays the wild and scandalous nature and even reveals her role as a hunter looking for its prey in a weak character like Benjamin.The darkness of her wardrobe throughout the film (similar to Benjamin's early outfits) reveals her depressing situation (i.e. the unloving and distant relationship with her husband) and the sinful deeds that she is willing to perform in order to gain happiness.

These and many other costumes, settings, props, etc. add great depth to this classic and groundbreaking story. While the events of the film may appear shocking and even somewhat disturbing, I would definitely recommend the film. It's a great representation of the attitudes that characterized the 1960'c counterculture and has a lot of depth in plot and character development.

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