What makes a movie great? Honestly, this question has no answer. That is the difference between art and science; there are no clear-cut theories and formulae in art to explain it. Over the past 100 years or so, a variety of movies have been proclaimed great for a variety of reasons. But there are no patterns, no rules you can follow to make a “great” movie as such. Even personally, I could never explain why I fall in love with one movie but hate the other. Of course, the usual film-making mechanics and technicalities are important, but that alone never does the trick. My simple way of measuring a film’s greatness is gauging my emotional response to it. It could be any response – love, heartache, happiness, anger, hatred, wonder, confusion or even disgust. I have to feel something; anything. Art is worthless if it makes you feel nothing. Unfortunately, that is exactly how I felt watching ‘The Graduate’: nothing.
When Mike Nichols’ coming-of-age drama released back in 1967, it was something of a phenomenon — and it continues to be recognized as one of the finest movies ever made. The movie traces the journey of a 20 something college graduate Benjamin, who in a period of depression about his future, is seduced by his father’s law partner’s wife Mrs Robinson and then goes on to fall in love with her daughter Elaine. Supposedly a commentary on the confusion and disillusionment of the young American middle class, I never understood the fuss around this movie when I first saw it, and I still don’t.
Benjamin has always done what is expected of him as an upper-middle class son, but he still isn’t satisfied. He is disenchanted with his life; there is no excitement or joy. An affair with a married woman old enough to be his mother manages to add some spice into his mundane existence. The concept is pretty interesting, to be honest, but the movie falters from the word go with its lazy writing. The academy nominated screenplay neither has depth nor is it interesting. It is bland and one-dimensional and the characters are either caricatured or boring. Even the romance is monotonous and bleak. The movie takes its ideas a little too seriously and after a while, the novelty wears off. Yeah, both Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft give excellent performances but there is only so much that can be done with such poorly developed characters.
The music of ‘The Graduate’ was considered path breaking when it was released and it continues to be hailed as one of the finest soundtracks in cinema. I couldn’t disagree more. Yeah, the music is excellent but I felt that it was overdone. Great movie soundtracks must always manage to seamlessly merge with narrative instead of over-compensating. After a while, the extensive usage of the music makes it seem forced and contrived — it extrapolates the movie’s unraveling.
Despite all its inadequacies, there are things to admire in the movie. The ending for instance; I felt that for a movie going downhill right from the beginning, the climax becomes a saving grace. And the idea behind the movie is so original, it manages to hold your attention for a while. But once the novelty wears off, nothing can save this films amateurish writing, which completely destroys what could have been a great movie.