Mike Nichols’ 1967 film, The Graduate, is one of the most influential films of the last fifty years. Its influence on pop culture as well as its significance in film history makes The Graduate a very special film. However, the cinematography and symbolism in this film and how it relates to the underlying themes in the story is what makes Mike Nichols’ The Graduate such a meaningful and significant piece in film history.
The Graduate could be about several things and there are many underlying themes that make up the story, like the journey from child to adult, or most notably the theme of sex and relationships and the “art” of seduction. The cinematography in The Graduate helps accentuate these themes for the audience. In the beginning of the film, there is a scene where Benjamin drives Mrs. Robinson home after his graduation party. She invites him onto her porch for a drink and asks him to sit down. The porch is made of all glass, so the outside environment is completely visible. Large trees, plants, bushes and other foliage surround the porch, making it appear as if this porch is in the jungle. I believe this is a metaphor for Mrs. Robinson’s pursuit of Benjamin. Also, the blocking and positioning of actors in the frame emphasize the themes of the film. When Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson begin their affair, Mrs. Robinson places her leg in the foreground of the shot to remove her stocking. Ben is in the background and positioned perfectly “under” Mrs. Robinson’s bare leg. Nichols’ suggests with this shot that Mrs. Robinson is more powerful than Benjamin and that she is the predator and he is her prey.
The Graduate is certainly one of the most influential and significant films ever made, and for several reasons. But one of the reasons this films’ themes are so well expressed is because of the cinematography and Nichols’ ability to communicate theme and story through shot and composition.