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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Great Last Scenes: The Graduate

Year: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Great Because...: There's a reason why the image of Benjamin and Elaine on the bus is one of the most iconic in film history. The ending of this movie is completely fitting, perfect right down to the expressions on Ben and Elaine's faces as the adrenaline wears off and they begin to realize what they've done.

Ben and Elaine's relationship is something of a rollercoaster ride. Neighbors since childhood, they're pushed together as adults by their parents - with one important exception. Elaine's mother, Mrs. Robinson, is adamently against the relationship but can't say why because then everyone would know that she is having an affair with Ben herself.

Ben reluctantly takes Elaine out only to fall for her in earnest and lose her when she finds out about his relationship with her mother. When Elaine runs off and goes back to school, Ben follows her but finds out that she's become engaged to someone else. In a last ditch attempt to win her back, Benjamin crashes the wedding. His emotional display incites the anger of the guests, but moves Elaine who takes the opportunity to run off with him. They flee the scene together and catch a bus and then... well, then they start to realize that they've probably just done the most exciting thing they'll ever do and it's all down hill from there.

This quiet moment of contemplation after the climactic church scene plays a large part in elevating the film from being simply good to really great. From the beginning, Benjamin has been little more than a bored suburban kid trying to avoid becoming a boring suburban adult like his parents. In this final shot he seems to realize that turning into his parents is his destiny regardless of how hard he tries to fight it. It's a moment that both funny and poignant.


FilmDr said...

On one level, what else can they do? If they start talking to each other, then the scene would have to continue. Their blank stare might also acknowledge that to some degree Ben hardly knows Elaine at all, and Elaine has just majorly screwed up her relations with her parents by impulsively running off with a guy who slept with her mother (thus redefining the term Oedipal). Also, the film has just gone full circle if you remember Ben's blank stare in an airplane at the beginning of the film.

Norma Desmond said...

Good point. I think Ben's problem ultimately is that he lacks imagination. He has this one inspired moment which brings excitement to his life but he has no idea where to go from there.