Oakley – Suffocation

The Following is a film analysis (not a review or synopsis) I performed as a part of my Intro to Film course at the University of North Texas. Throughout this analysis I have assumed the reader is familiar with the film in question and would also caution that it is not a film I would normally recommend. However, there can still be a lot to learn from a Hollywood narrative while observing the more prominent theme of “Isolation from Adulthood”. The Graduate, although a 70’s classic,  contains adult themes and content wherefore viewer discretion is advised.

A Theme of Suffocation

Mike Nichols’ The Graduate formally introduces a thematic portrayal of social isolation through the eyes of Benjamin Braddock, the college graduate who is worried about his future.Early in the film, Benjamin sits alone in his room while a congratulatory party awaits him outside. A more isolated miniature scuba diver figurine in a fish tank stands behind him, foreshadowing a sequence in the film desiring even closer attention. Isolation from adulthood appears as one of the most prominent themes throughout the film, and the analysis of this sequence will allow for a better understanding of its design. All five formal axis of Hollywood cinema shall be taken in close account beginning with the literary design.
Dressed in California Contemporary Sport style, the Braddocks are celebrating Benjamin’s twenty-first birthday. The scene opens with Benjamin’s father announcing to everyone the unveiling of the “Afternoon’s feature attraction.” Benjamin is hesitant to come out and embarrass himself as he sounds to be having second thoughts about his birthday present. Left with no choice, Benjamin comes outside wearing a diving suit and is led to his new underwater habitat. His naïve and undisclosed desires are repressed to captivating depths.
Throughout the entirety of this sequence, there is an almost nauseous and tantalizing tone overwhelming the obvious pride of Benjamin’s father and the forceful nonsense Benjamin has to put up with. He’s finally done it. He’s raised a boy into a young man of 21 with a college degree and honors almost claiming as if they were all his own achievements. And yet the reality of the situation is the timid Benjamin who looks all but dashing and confident in his birthday suit. Benjamin’s choices have been made for him all his life leading him on to becoming the morally drifting and indecisive degenerate at the bottom of the pool. Like the little scuba doll in the fish tank, Benjamin is nothing more than a piece of materialistic value to cling to.
The dialogue comprises mostly of Benjamin’s father along with the annoyed, impatient banter from the audience and the subtle protests of Benjamin waiting in the kitchen. Benjamin’s father sounds like the ring master of a circus but is soon cut off when Benjamin walks out of the kitchen and the perspective is taken all from his point of view. Behind the mask, nothing can be heard other than the loud gestures of Benjamin’s father and the breathing apparatus. Led to the pool, Benjamin takes a plunge and is forced under by his father’s mindless and vicarious self-indulgence.
The Graduate is a very appropriate title as the story is about that of a graduating college student, but the title could also be interpreted as the sign of a new era: graduating not only from college but also into the adult class. The irony of it all, however, is although Benjamin Braddock has finished his college education, he’s still left as unsure and insecure as when he was a child—he has graduated but he hasn’t really “grownup.”
The visual design takes the literary design further. With the establishing shots and use of angles, it is only clear of what mood needs to be felt during this sequence and what is to be interpreted based on the visualization of the words of a script to pictures on a screen. From the young and hip clothing a much older generation is wearing to the mature and committed clothing of the younger generations throughout the film there would seem to be a battle being waged between the materialistic and the intellectual. Among the more impressive shots would be whenthe perspective of the viewer is taken behind the mask and through the eyes of Benjamin adding not only creativity to the shot but also the symbolic meanings behind Benjamin’s mask of isolation and narrow vision. Of course, this all ties in very well with the cinematography of the sequence following a very formalistic style with the precision of American Society of Cinematographer’s Robert Surtees.
The film was shot on Panavision 35mm anamorphic film using an anamorphic lens attaining a very wide field of view and a classic Hollywood frame. What this also achieves is subjecting audiences to more than just a single subject; however, close-ups remained the most effective and used shot. The most sticking shot used in this sequence is when Benjamin walks out in his Scuba suit toward the camera looking almost directly into the lens and breaking the fourth wall. Benjamin’s body fills the frame and the shot is changed to his perspective—literally through the mask. Finally, the camera is submerged underwater (which would require special underwater housing for the entire body of the camera) and the final shot is a wide shot of Benjamin left alone under water. All these shots were carefully edited together into a story told by Sam O’Steen.
The sequence and the voice of Benjamin’s Father is actually heard “off-camera.” In other words, the editor implanted the use of a “J-cut” and does so again when the scene ends when we hear Mrs. Robinson begin a conversation with Benjamin over the phone. What this accomplishes (especially at the end of the sequence) is allowing the viewers into the head of the protagonist, almost literally allowing them to hear Benjamin’s thoughts along with seamless transitions from one sequence to the next. A “reverse” cut is also used breaking the line of action but allowing the use of the “reverse shot” when Benjamin walks toward the camera and then transitions to his point of view and through the scuba mask. The sequence finally ends with a montage of Benjamin going into the pool, being forced down under, and then left alone in a human sized fish tank with Mrs. Robinson a phone call away.
Having analyzed almost every aspect of this sequence, a discussion of the sound design could not be left out. Realizing the importance of sound only to the point of being able to hear the dialog leaves out the actual importance and use of silence among other effects. Although the dialogue serves as a driving force for this sequence, the most memorable scene is when nothing can be heard at all except Benjamin’s breathing apparatus. This silence and not being able to hear outside of the mask could indicate more toward the theme of isolation and Benjamin’s self election to drown out the noise tying close to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence which opens the film. This could also be interpreted as the silence that dwells in and around Benjamin’s life giving him a “no one listens and no one cares” mentality.
The Isolation Benjamin Braddock faces among his adult peers may have everything to do with the large gap between generations; he either cannot hear or will not listen and this is demonstrated well through the analyzed sequence. Although this single part certainly will not do entirely on its own to tell a story; it still plays a powerful roll in gaining a better understanding of the themes involved leading to a mosaic of motifs and overall the bigger picture. From the figurine in the fish tank to the drudge in the pool, Benjamin’s nothing more than property with no future to call his own.
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