Well, we sat through The Graduate last Friday night, and though I had an immediate idea of where this was going to head, its taken me all this week to formulate this post.
This is a movie that leaves you with little doubt at the end that this was a well crafted, well made, highly effective movie. The sound, the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, the camera angles, cuts and moments of visual impact are truly terrific, reason enough to make it into the top 100.
Notice that I still haven’t said that I enjoyed it. “Terrific” is the route word of terror, if not the other way around is it not? “Highly effective” are positive terms when the message is positive. When the message is pessimistic, hopeless, even, highly effective means it tugs you violently in those directions also. It also leaves you with more than a little doubt that what was just fed to you was a piece of post-modernism, at its earliest stages. From the cross symbolism, to the calloused view of marriage, to the fairly realistic view of our own superficial times, this movie opens up a fairly nauseating can of worms.
The dialogue itself is quite telling. In one note-worthy moment, the protagonist, Ben, tells his father, “I’m worried about my future.” “About what?” his father replies. “I want my life to be…” but he’s cut off by his mother who comes in the room and a whole new conversation begins. The father never does go back to the original conversation and a life that could have been given some direction is lost. Even an affirming word that it was a noble intention to make his life worth something to society, to humanity, would likely have spared the son from the empty existence he soon adopts. Instead, swept up in the party for their son which is about to begin, the moment is lost and so is he. In their selfish interest to show off their award-winning athletic son, they ignore his needs.
Another quietly telling moment occurs when the young man stands back to hold a hotel door open for a progression of older, well-dressed, obviously rich and successful people. These people all ignore him, none even looking him in the eye, and they certainly do not acknowledge that he’s holding the door for them. He stands back with a quiet smile on his face and carries on as though that is always the way it is in his life. The older people have no time or place for him.
As Ben faces an uncertain future, he becomes less and less focused as the summer rolls along. His father approaches him one day as he floats lazily in the pool. “What are you doing?” his father asks. “I’m drifting,” he responds. Rather than noticing the obvious double meaning, his father ignores the anchorless existence of his son. When nothing is given to him of worth, the only thing he can do is drift. He lives in a loveless, religion-less, charity-less, world of self-absorbed, task-driven people.
Eventually, the son’s choices lead to a life of detachment, and though attempts are made to re-connect to people, they all fail. Unable to talk, unable to listen, unable to love, only to feel and to react, his life becomes empty and sad. The only advice he is given in the whole movie, that I can recall, is when a friend at his party pulls him aside and confidently, yet strikingly tells him that he has “one word” for him…pregnant pause for dramatic effect for both the young man and the audience… the one word is uttered… “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”
Plastic surgery ( click here to see how you can even have plastic surgery and pay with plastic! ) is a good place to jump to. If we don’t like or don’t have the real thing, we turn it into plastic. Have you seen those fake neon palm trees lately? We have plastic fruit, plastic flowers, plastic toy sharks to make up for real ones, plastic Christmas trees, and even plastic caskets to bury ourselves in should we crash that plastic car. (Doesn't plastic casket sound like a good name for a band?)
The word implies to many people "fake". Fake is usually a bad thing. Faking income has led to bank collapse. Faking injury has led to higher insurance claims. Faking offense has led to more guilt. Faking qualifications has led to people doing jobs they are not qualified for. Faking our assignments have led to inflated opinions and over-qualifying. Faking knowledge has led to us having some of our pollitical leaders we have. Faking life must be the worst faking of all. Chasing after false importance. Pursuing fame. Finding our own glory in our children. Pushing our children toward false, over-valued things. We seem to want a plastic world for ourselves, one in which we end up with nothing really mattering to us, nothing can dent us, nothing can bend us, nothing can help us to really feel, to really love, to really desire forgiveness and restitution, we simply pretend that everything is fine. In this I see a parallel with Edward Scissorhands and this movie. I also see a supreme work that is needed, might I say a Supreme work. We can have real life, abundant life Jesus called it, but we must put away what the world is selling us as important. This is true for all of us. Not just those who are un-believers, but for true believers too. The world and its system is so wrapped up in who we are that we may even miss out that it has us (see The Matrix as a movie example of this, and my life as a practical example).
Anyway, it seems I could go on, but this post must be getting long by now! I leave you with one word, are you listening??????