Mike Nichols’ coming-of-age comedy not only launched the careers of fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross, it also helped to define a generation of baby boomers. Following a successful stint at college, twenty-year old Ben Braddock returns home to his parent’s upper middle-class lifestyle in suburban Los Angeles without any goals or ambitions yet still “worried” about his future. Unable to communicate these mixed feelings to his proud parents and their bourgeois friends Ben tries to feign delight in the pointless chatter and trivial games around him until a chance encounter, and subsequent affair, with the sexually aggressive wife of his father’s business partner jars him out of his complacency and sets his life in an unexpected direction. At first his dalliances with the older Mrs. Robinson give Ben a newfound sense of confidence—if no real purpose—but as their clandestine trysts become increasingly predictable, Ben’s attempts at getting to know the person behind the unflappable facade slowly reveal a worn and world-weary woman who regards him as little more than an inferior plaything. Then he commits an unforgivable transgression—he falls in love with the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine—and when her mother’s claws finally come out they not only serve to highlight the social gulf between her and Ben but the ever widening generation gap of an entire country. A masterpiece of deadpan humour laced with irony and wit which speaks volumes on the mindset of its protagonist without the usual bombastic sermons. Numerous encounters with adults only serve to heighten Ben’s confusion while images of pools and aquarium-bound fish (and that famous alfa romeo) serve up ambivalent metaphors as he finds himself torn between the expectations of his WASP parents and his own innate desire to be something different. It’s no coincidence then that his bedroom sports a dart board while a painting of a sad clown hangs over the staircase—nor is it happenstance that his odyssey should begin in the conservative burbs of southern California but end in radical Berkeley. Aside from its award-winning script and timeless score of Simon & Garfunkel ballads however, the enduring success of Nichols’ film ultimately rests on the sheer star power of his cast especially the pairing of Hoffman’s hesitantly monotone naif and Ann Bancroft’s predatory cougar. He has also given cinema two of its most iconic scenes: the surreal hotel seduction between Ben and Mrs. Robinson, and Ben’s crashing of Elaine’s wedding in a desperate attempt to prevent her from marrying the privileged suitor of her parents’ choosing. Certainly dated, but an American classic nevertheless.

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