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Written by Timothy Sexton
Benjamin Braddock has just graduated from college, as the title of the film implies, and like most other recent graduates, he is a magnet for advice from older friends of the family. One of those adults has just one word for Benjamin. That word is, of course, “plastics.” And, indeed if Benjamin would have taken Mr. McGuire for some sort of sage filled with highly valuable information and useful insight, today he would likely be an incredibly bitter old man since the plastics industry is off by about 50% from its peak. This one word quote sits at number 42 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most memorable quotes of the first 100 years of years of American movies and it is representative of every piece of bad advice ever given to a new college graduate.
“Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?”
Interestingly, this quote from The Graduate also made the AFI’s list of most memorable quotes, but at #63 ranks lower than the “Plastic.” Among cineastes, the one word quote is likely appreciated more deeply, but as far as the average moviegoer is concerned, this is the key quote from the film. Ask the average person to quote from The Graduate and this is the one most likely to tumble forth from their mouths. As far as long-term irony goes, it does not begin to match the depth of “Plastics” and Benjamin’s rather confused certainty here also lacks the power to be dropped into any conversation as a non-sequitur capable of entertaining some and, well, confusing many. Then again, no other single line of dialogue in the history of film is so perfectly suited for use in a real-life situation where you think someone may be trying to seduce. To that extent, The Graduate supplies us with one of the rarest of all great movie quotes: the ability to use it in the same exact circumstance in which it is used in the film.
“Well, I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool.”
Except, it’s not just in the pool that Benjamin is drifting. This quote is directed to his father who wonders exactly what the point of his paying for his son to go to nice, expensive college was for if all his son is going to do with that the power that came with a rarity that a college degree still happened to be in 1967 is to sun himself in the pool. Benjamin wonders as well and for the time being his answer is to drift. Which is a lot more acceptable today than it was for those of the Braddock family’s position in 1967.
“Are you here for an affair, sir?”
The hotel clerk is merely inquiring as to whether Benjamin has arrived to attend the party for the Singlemans. The level of multiple meanings inherent in that simple query is really the focus and the exhibition of the humor that drove The Graduate to become one of the defining comedy films of the 1960s.
“It's like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me. They're being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
Here it is: Benjamin’s great existential moment of realization. But the fact that Benjamin has reached that revelation is not what is significant about this quote. After all, any viewer possessed of the slightest bit of perception will have gotten there well before Benjamin vocalizes the creeping sense of dread and anxiety. What is especially significant of about this particular vocalizing of existential understanding is that Benjamin is for the very first time in the film genuinely communicating with another person: Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. What makes this moment all the more important is that Benjamin’s inability to connect on any level with any other character aside from sexually with Mrs. Robinson has been such a consequential element in the construction of the narrative.
“Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! Elaine!"
Elaine Robinson is about to get married and Benjamin—despite the best efforts of Mrs. Robinson to make sure such a thing could never happen—is intent on interrupting the nuptials and claiming the one true love of his life as his own. In a movie punctuated with more than its fair share iconic shots, the shot of Benjamin towering high above the wedding ceremony screaming desperately the name of the only person he can possibly comprehend as the savior of his life on display below ranks as one of the most evocative.
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