New Wave Hollywood
Around thirty minutes into The Graduate, 1967’s top-grossing film, shortly ι. after Benjamin Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) first sexual encounter with the predatory Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), director Mike Nichols introduces an effectively self-contained six-minute sequence intended to communicate Ben’s state of lassitude and alienation. An abstract pattern of light and colour resolves itself into the play of sunlight on the water of Ben’s parents’ swimming pool, and we cross-fade into a wordless montage scored to the melancholy commentary of two Simon and Garfunkel songs, ‘The Sound of Silence’ and ‘Tuesday, Come She Will’. We see Ben and Mrs Robinson together directly before or after having sex in a variety of soulless hotel rooms, the meaninglessness of their encounters underscored by their blank gazes and lack of communication. These vignettes are intercut with scenes of Ben moping around the pool, the same affectless torpor distancing him from his surroundings here too. Nichols exploits continuity editing conventions to deliberately confuse spatial relations: Ben opens the door to the pool house and via a match cut walks straight into the room where Mrs Robinson awaits him half-dressed on the bed. Eyeline matches and cuts on action are used to collapse the physically separate domestic/parental and worldly/erotic spaces into one continuum of isolation and dysfunctional personal relationships.
Although these scenes all obviously take place after Ben and Mrs Robinson first have sex, temporal relations – how many days or weeks are being summarised, whether the events occur in the order depicted onscreen – are left purposely undefined. Indeed, it is possible we should understand the entire montage as a transcription of Ben’s mindscape as he reveries about his own life. At the end of the sequence, the music fades as Ben heaves himself up out of the pool onto a floating inflatable – ‘lands’ atop Mrs Robinson, breathing hard as he climaxes – but then looks over his shoulder (Mrs Robinson still beneath him) as if in response to his father’s offscreen query: ‘Ben, what are