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No. 8: The Graduate

Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson

Jody Rosen
December 08, 2011

1967, dir. Mike Nichols. It begins with new college graduate, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), on a jet airplane bound for Los Angeles, staring blankly into the middle distance. It ends with another ride into the unknown: Benjamin and the runaway bride, Elaine Robinson, on a rickety public bus, again gazing wordlessly forward. In between is one of the movies’ great coming-of-age stories—as funny, sexy, and poignant a comedy of manners as American cinema has ever produced. The screenplay, adapted by Buck Henry from Charles Webb’s novel, is taut and sharp-witted. Mike Nichols’ direction, a groundbreaking synthesis of nouvelle-vague artiness and classic Hollywood storytelling, set the template for decades of independent American cinema that has followed. Hoffman’s lead performance turned an alienated nebbish into a charismatic big screen hero, and rightly made him a star. Today the film stands as one of the great artifacts of 1960s counterculture: Nichols and Hoffman—and those two Jewish folksingers crooning all over the soundtrack—stand alongside Bob Dylan and Abbie Hoffman as Jewish prophets of generational unrest. Where are Benjamin and Elaine headed on that bus? Just around the bend, a turbulent new world, the late-1960s, is coming into view. Next stop: Summer of Love.

Jody Rosen is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.