The Jewish Angle in THE GRADUATE has been much discussed. But whatever its implications and meanings, there’s no denying the brilliance with which Mike Nichols made the movie, something that eluded him in later works… though CATCH-22 has its moments and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE is pretty compelling as an arty take on the Sexual Revolution. So, the talent has to be discussed in relation to the film’s impact. THE GRADUATE would likely have failed with critics and audience in lesser hands, whatever its message. It’s like almost no one talks about GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER or just about anything by Stanley Kramer. Though Nichols ultimately didn’t turn out to be a great director, he made one great movie, THE GRADUATE, much like Ridley Scott surpassed his limitations one time with BLADE RUNNER. Likewise, other key works by Jewish directors of the period must be considered(even in criticism) with an appreciation of their power as artists, wits, dramatists, expressionists. Even if there is a Jewish angle to THE GRADUATE and other works by Jewish artists, there is much more than mere ethnic propaganda. Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Roman Polanski made ROSEMARY’S BABY. Stuart Rosenberg made COOL HAND LUKE. Arthur Penn made BONNIE & CLYDE. Arthur Schlesinger made MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Richard Brooks made IN COLD BLOOD. Earlier in the decade, Blake Edwards made BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Though Sidney Lumet would come to greatness in the 70s and 80s, he was emerging as a force as well. (Norman Jewison, who made IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, isn’t Jewish despite the name.)
Now, not all the above-listed directors attained greatness. Rosenberg made one great movie, COOL HAND LUKE, but was mostly a journeyman director. But for whatever reason, it was the Jews(and then some Italian-Americans) who were most adept at hitching onto the new sensibility and conceiving new possibilities for Hollywood. Of course, many new or newer talents were not Jewish. Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, and the like. But Jewish film-makers were among the key figures in the development of New Hollywood. They were bolder, hungrier, more curious, more radical, more hip to trends. They were also among the most admiring of the great European directors(most of whom were not Jewish) and some Japanese ones. Their impact on cinema was somewhat akin to Bob Dylan’s on Rock Music, though it’s arguable that the only Jewish film-maker to match the cultural significance of Dylan was Stanley Kubrick who struck a chord with both critics and the audience. To be sure, cinephilia of the Film Generation was somewhat different from the attitudes of Youth Culture. Whereas Rock fans had close to zero interest in pre-Rock music and foreign music — though Folk Rockers were more reverent of the past and other cultures — , Film Culture was about remembrance and international curiosity. So, the seminal film critics of the 60s didn’t just discuss the latest trends and hottest hits but wrote extensively about foreign cinema and classic Hollywood. College kids who had no interest in music prior to Rock might nevertheless look up to Howard Hawks and Orson Welles as cultural heroes and icons.
Still, despite the respect accorded to the Old Hollywood greats by Andrew Sarris, Peter Bogdanovich, and their acolytes, the fact is the culture was changing fast. So, while even young cinephiles might marvel at a John Ford Western or Frank Capra comedy, they no longer believed movies could or should be made that way. There was a new spirit in the air, and Jewish film-makers were among the first to run with it. And yet, the Europeans and Japanese had been ahead of American Cinema in personal expression and experimentation. In a way, the new batch of Jewish film-makers had a greater affinity for non-Jewish-controlled foreign cinema and were rebelling against the Hollywood System controlled by old-fashioned Jewish executives and careerists. And they had their chance because the Old Studio system was either dead or moribund, just barely hanging on, as the result of Hollywood’s loss of theater monopoly and the rise of TV.
One can socially critique movies like COOL HAND LUKE, THE GRADUATE, BONNIE AND CLYDE, and many others as hostile and subversive, and there is certainly a Jewish angle to this. Still, the real power and effectiveness of these works owes to their artistry, brilliance, and deeper implications than their apparent message, be it blatant or esoteric. It’s like Shakespeare’s HENRY V is more than a ‘nationalist’ piece of propaganda. Also, they were refreshing because there is a bit of anarchist in each of us that roots for the oddball, eccentric, maverick, outsider, or underdog. (The audience rooted for Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY because whites had become underdogs in boxing.) And the similar strains could be found in European and Japanese movies that were, if anything, even bolder in thumbing their noses at the established order and social norms. Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, and Hiroshi Teshigahara were not Jewish. Neither were European directors like Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Bo Widenberg, Fassbinder, Gillo Pontecorvo, and etc. So, in some ways, the Jewish American directors were following in the leads of European and Japanese cultural pioneers and enfants terribles, though one could argue that modern radicalism anywhere in the world was inspired in part by Jewish Influence.
At any rate, Jewish Power of Propaganda cannot be understood apart from the talent and visions that go far beyond whatever the original ‘political’ intent may have been. In some ways, David Mamet is an unpleasant Jewish chauvinist, yet he is also artist and thinker enough to raise questions and face truths that challenge his ethnic biases. (In contrast, Aaron Sorkin is a mere propagandist-hack, albeit a talented one.) Sergei Eisenstein’s propaganda films are crude as message but works of genius as experimental formalism. ROSEMARY’S BABY would likely have been a third-rate movie in the hands of someone other than Polanski, just like JAWS would have been one more dumb monster movie if not for Steven Spielberg. (Polanski and other Eastern European directors are a special case. Whereas most of the great Western European directors were non-Jewish, many of the Iron Curtain’s ‘new wave’ directors, especially in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, were Jewish. Though the White Right generally sees Jews as radical leftists, many of these Hungarian and Czech ‘new wave’ Jewish film-makers were problematic to communist authorities for their espousal of individualism, irreverence, satire, and/or something approaching libertarianism. Most were liberal than leftist, highly problematic as communism regarded liberalism as a bourgeois conceit. And even if not pro-capitalist, they leaned more towards social democracy than communism. Polanski detested communism, and Milos Forman, the Czech Jew in exile, found great success in Hollywood with ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which would be very un-PC today, and AMADEUS, a work that is, at once, subversive of authority and defensive of genius as natural hierarchy.) Talent goes a long way, and whatever ideological agendas or ethnic biases may have shaped the works of Jewish directors, the top Jewish talents were not only born with natural intelligence but grew up with a genuine appreciation of arts/culture. As such, Mike Nichols’ main objective was to make a popular but personal art film inspired by the cinema of Europe. (Nichols was especially impressed with Fellini’s 8 1/2. THE GRADUATE also has nods to Michelangelo Antonioni and Francois Truffaut.) But if some American directors miserably failed at making Art Films— THE SWIMMER had all the elements to be a great piece of personal film-making but suffered from strained uneven direction, and Lumet’s PAWNBROKER is an embarrassing assemblage of obvious homages to European Art House — , others found their own stride, and THE GRADUATE may be the most significant work in this spirit. At first glance, it seemed a Hollywood movie riffing on European Art film mannerisms, and yet, it was so genuinely American and Hollywood. Moreover, Nichols, unlike Lumet before him, totally made the work his own. Instead of imitation, he drew inspiration and found his own beat and rhythm. As such, while THE GRADUATE may resemble a work like BLOW-UP by Antonioni, it has a uniqueness all its own. Also, the great appeal of movies like THE GRADUATE and MIDNIGHT COWBOY owed to American Jews being less hung up with intellectual conceits. As much as they admired European cinema, they also loved humor, effect, and fun. Increasingly with European Cinema, there developed the purist notion that true art cannot be much fun or rely on time-tested conventions. Also, theory began to dominate practice. For instance, Pier Paolo Pasolini began his film career with lively works with expressive actors, but along the way, he got this idea that actors shouldn’t act dramatically. Godard’s films got increasingly self-conscious. Ingmar Bergman’s films grew colder. Now, an artist who really knows what he’s doing can make it work, as in the case of Robert Bresson. But too many aspiring auteurs in Europe became allergic to doing anything that might violate the monastic or radical mission of cinema as art or commitment.
In contrast, Nichols had far fewer such hang-ups. So, even as he drew certain ideas from European cinema, he was mindful to lots of humor along with the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, whatever worked. Such use of songs might have aeen deemed as cheating or relying more on non-cinematic expressions than on the pure possibilities of cinema. But the use of songs did wonders for THE GRADUATE, just like the use of classical music added another dimension to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. So, Nichols and others like him had the best of both worlds: The new language of Art Cinema as personal expression but also the eagerness to please and win over the audience with timeless tricks of entertainment. And that is why THE GRADUATE, like HAROLD AND MAUDE, works on so many levels. It is seriously committed to cinema as art but also shameless in presenting a good show. New Hollywood was closer in spirit to Serious Rock — Later Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, CCR — than Modernist Music that took out all the fun from music.
So much of PC mentality is reductionist in evaluating works for their ‘toxicity’ level, e.g. ‘racism’, ‘misogyny’, ‘sexism’, ‘homophobia’, ‘antisemitism’, and etc. It’s too bad that this tendency exists on the Right as well. Now, it’s fair game to notice socially or politically problematic ideas and messages in any work, but the question still remains, why do certain works, regardless of their moral or political content, have such power and influence on the audience? And here, we have to address the matter of talent, brilliance, originality, and/or genius. While THE GRADUATE isn’t the work of a genius, it is a brilliant piece of film-making, one where everything clicked together. (It both supports and subverts the cult of the ‘auteur’ as its miracle couldn’t have been possible without Mike Nichols’ guiding hand but also depended so much on the chemistry among the assembled cast and crew.) And also a poetic one, even if it amounts to pop-poeticism, like the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Likewise, THE GODFATHER movies would likely have been nothing special and soon forgotten but for the understanding, knowledge, and skills brought to it by Francis Ford Coppola. There’s no point to condemning or praising an entire work because of its said politics.
Turman bought the rights to the book for $1,000 and sent it unsolicited to Jewish director Mike Nichols (born Mikhail Peschkowsky) who signed on to the project. Turman’s search for financing led him to Jewish film mogul Joseph E. Levine—“the schlockmeister of the world”—who put up $3 million… Nichols assigned Jewish screenwriter Buck Henry (born Henry Zuckerman)… Songs by the Jewish duo Simon and Garfunkel were used for the soundtrack. Given the many Jews involved in the film’s production, it’s hardly surprising that Jewish sensibilities and ideological fixations pervade the final product.
But Jewish finance and Jewish producers had long been a dominant force in Hollywood. Also, Jewish writers had been embedded in Hollywood since its inception. And many music composers were Jewish. So, THE GRADUATE is hardly different from works of Classic Hollywood in the preponderance of Jewish money and talent.
In the hands of director Mike Nichols, however, the story became a scathing critique of bourgeois WASP American culture and the oppressive burden it purportedly imposed on young Americans. Nichols employs two recurrent visual metaphors to symbolize this oppressive culture: black-and-white stripes and water.
Many people saw the movie that way, but I’m not sure Nichols meant it that way. When pressed about Elaine and Benjamin by a young female fan of the movie, he answered that they’d probably end up just like their parents. Also, even though there is gentle mockery of upper middle class life, it’s hardly hateful. (If anything, even as the audience is glibly laughing at the ‘shallow’ people in the movie, they are attracted to displays of affluence and the good life, also true of works like LA DOLCE VITA and LA NOTTE. Would THE GRADUATE have been as successful if it were about a working class guy living in a tenement? MARTY with Ernest Borgnine proved to be more or less a one-off thing.)
Benjamin’s woes have less to do with social oppression than loss of youth. He’s worried about the future, i.e. it has arrived, he’s living in it, so it no longer exists for him. This is a universal problem faced by people all over the world. When you’re young, the future is always something in the distant horizon. It’s always a day ahead, like the song from ANNIE. Or consider how Scarlett in GONE WITH THE WIND always assures herself that ‘tomorrow will be another day’. This procrastination about the future loomed larger among the boomer generation as more of them grew up in affluence, could attend college, and followed their bliss, that was as long as one was young and still at work or play. But school eventually ends, and one must be an adult with responsibilities and burdens. So, even though the movie is based on Charles Webb’s novel, its spirit also flows from CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. Braddock is not a victim of social oppression, that is made clear. His parents provided him with everything. He has a nice big room all to himself. He could attend the college of his choice far from home. His graduation gift is a fancy sports car. And as the movie makes clear, his parents pretty much allow him to do as he pleases. At one time, his father expresses displeasure with Ben’s taking it easy, but he doesn’t do much about it. Also, Mr. Robinson’s advice to Ben is that he should sow some wild oats and have the time of his life(without realizing it would lead to an affair with his wife). Later, when his mother asks him what he does all night long and his answer isn’t forthcoming, she just walks away and leaves him alone; she’s a very understanding, even permissive, parent.
Ben also has no problem with job prospects. ‘Plastics’, he can make lots of money working for corporations. Or, he can continue with his education, especially as he got a scholarship. So, what is bothering him? His youth is over and thrill is gone. Whether work or more school, he feels his youth slipped by. It went from looking-forward-to-life to life-itself. He’s going through what might be called the Beginning-Age Crisis, the crisis that befalls someone who realizes his youth is definitely over and his first chapter as an adult begins. He doesn’t want to be like his parents or their friends, but it’s not because he hates them. It’s because it means just working, making money, and then growing old and retiring. Such is life, and there is no escape, and it’s something everyone must accept at some moment, but Ben simply isn’t ready yet to make the transition. (Perhaps, he feels especially cheated because his youth passed him by without him even having gotten laid or fallen in love or done something truly exciting.) And in the 1960s when youth itself became an identity in its own right, the boomers developed this notion of Forever-Young. They said stuff like “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” without realizing they themselves would be over 30 sooner than later. So, Ben’s problems are essentially personal and psychological(and generational) than social or cultural. The problem is not lack of freedom but too much freedom that he came to associate with youth. Finally, with graduation, he will have less freedom as a full-time worker who just grows older and becomes just another suburban man. Granted, there is a certain irony in his transition from student to full adulthood. On the one hand, he has more freedom after graduation. He doesn’t have to attend classes anymore. He’s his own man and can do whatever he wants. And yet, it’s a freedom of responsibility, a kind of drag and burden. In contrast, while as a student he was more under the control of institutions and his parents who paid his tuition, he wasn’t responsible for himself. As a son and student, his sole responsibility was to attend school and get good grades. He was taken care of, and furthermore, he could focus on knowledge and learning than on mundane matters of life. And he could always look to the future as something special. But the day finally arrived, and it just proved to be another day, and all the days following that day will turn him into just another suburban man. His life will be comfortable and affluent but not particularly meaningful, as only a tiny handful of people actually get to pursue their dreams.
The water metaphor is less about societal weight on Ben’s shoulders than about Ben’s emotional state of melancholy and confusion. In a way, the watery depth is more a solace than a prison. Notice how he keeps running back to his bed room from the graduation party full of admiring friends of his parents. These people are full of affection and praise for Ben. Hardly oppressive, but he finds the situation insufferable because they all remind him of what he will be in two or three decades. So, he would rather be in his room staring into the aquarium. Thus, he feels comfortably numb. The fish, like the ducks in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, may stand for a more ideal existence. Unlike Holden Caulfield who doesn’t know what to make of his life, the ducks naturally know to fly south for winter. The fish in the aquarium need not worry about anything as the tank is cleaned by humans and as they’re regularly fed. Having graduated, Ben is out of the fish tank of childhood for good and in the river of adulthood. Later when we see Ben having a good time with his affair with Mrs. Robinson, we see him floating on the water glinting with sunlight. There’s the memorable moment with the rain, but I think it was more for effect and mood than symbolism. It also foreshadows his desperate race against time later in the movie. Of course, as he sweats up a storm, he’s his own rain-maker.
A special thing about THE GRADUATE is it finds a special beauty in the melancholy. In a way, Ben wants to break out or break on through to the other side, but the meaning is in the struggle, not in the victory. He studied hard all his young life to be a top student and graduated with honors, but it seems hollow once it’s behind him. Same with his ‘second graduation’ with Elaine as trophy wrested from the church wedding. His greatest desire is to win her heart and make her his. It becomes an all-consuming passion and obsession… but once he has Elaine with him in the bus at the end, he begins to feel somewhat empty again. The dream is always sad, even a bit depressing, because its realization seems so elusive, even impossible. The dreamer hopes the dream will become reality, but per chance it does, the result is always bound to be anticlimactic. So, Ben is caught in a psychological trap. A neurotic-romantic, he’s given to aching for what’s beyond his reach. And yet, upon attaining his dream, he realizes that he was truly happy when he was in yearning. It’s like hunger calls for satiation but, once satisfied, soon fades in pleasure.
Once he gets it, he realizes it’s just one more trophy and life goes on. It’s like the scene in BLOW-UP where a bunch of guys tussle over a broken guitar neck, but it is tossed aside soon after it’s taken by one guy. It’s the curse of a dream coming true. It just becomes more of mundane reality and loses its luster as future vision.
In a way, Ben’s problem isn’t all that different from the personal crisis of the young man in BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. War was hell, and he dreamed of returning home alive in one piece. But as a civilian, he’s just another Joe, just another guy working 9 to 5 to make ends meet. As horrific as war was, he was a hero and felt more alive precisely because death was everywhere. But back in the States, where life is everywhere and so humdrum, he feels empty. And when he sees the many bombers rusting in the airfield waiting to be scrapped for metal, he senses another kind of death. End of war means life, but the airfield looks like a graveyard of heroism. Feeling alive isn’t the same thing as life. There can be lots of life but no sense of being alive, feeling alive. In contrast, one could feel most alive around death. While Ben hardly had to worry about death, the experience of growing up and graduating from school to school was a kind of adventure of mind and spirit. Every year meant he was rising another level, growing into adulthood. But once an adult, there is growing older but no more growing up. It’s like once peak height is reached, there is advancement in years but not in inches(except around the waistline).
Ben’s situation in the final part of the movie is like David and Goliath. It’s the same reason we root for Tony Montana who defies the chief kingpin in SCARFACE and takes on all-comers. Ben is the scrappy fellow who pursues his dream come what may and runs off with the girl. But what he does isn’t normal. It’s not normal to expect a relationship with a girl whose mother you had sex with. It’s not normal or very honorable to come between a woman and her prospective groom. The scene where he informs his parents about the marriage says it all. They assume Elaine and Ben came to an agreement, but Ben says he decided on his own and that Elaine doesn’t even like him. And unbeknownst to his parents, there is the problem of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. (We are not sure when exactly Mr. Robinson found out about the affair.) Ben’s father says his plan is half-baked, and Ben says, no, it’s completely baked. And it is. The normal and honorable thing would be for a guy to accept the reality of the girl being betrothed to another. The proper thing is to walk away, but Ben just won’t. To be sure, he decides to call it quits after Mr. McClusky(Norman Fell as landlord) threatens him with eviction, but then, Elaine tells him not to leave until he has a definite plan. And then, Ben is back to his crazy dreamer self.
Things can never be normal with Ben and Elaine even if they do eventually get married. After all, she made her wedding vow and is legally wed to Carl Smith. So, she must go through the whole legal rigamarole of filing for divorce. And if Ben and Elaine were to tie the knot to make it official, they will still be estranged from their parents, especially the Robinsons. Ben’s father can’t be too happy either as his partner in the law firm is none other than Mr. Robinson. In time, Ben and Elaine as married couple will likely end up like their parents, but their lives can never be normal due to strained situations with their parents(and perhaps the scandal of the wedding crash).
That said, THE GRADUATE had an almost universal appeal because it was as sentimental as it was cynical. It was like the Beatles and SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, an album beloved not only by youths but older people and even highbrow types. It was a Rock album pandering to Summer of Love and Youth Culture, but it was also arty and even a bit old-fashioned, with tunes like “When I’m Sixty Four” and “She’s Leaving Home”, a song that is rebellious in message but traditional in delivery. (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was also a winner with both young and older audiences.) Young people regarded Ben as a rebel-hero who says hell to ‘plastics’, experiments in free love, seeks authenticity, and takes action to realize his dreams. And yet, even non-radical or non-experimental boomers could relate to him because he initially comes across as something of a square and stuff-shirt, someone who focused more on books than all the groovy things happening around the period. Charles Webb’s novel came out before Counterculture happened, whereas the movie was made in its midst. The scenario feels all the more alienating for that reason. It’s like an early 60s mindset time-traveled to the latter-60s. Now, one might say that those were just a few years, but SO MUCH happened between 1963 and 1967. That sudden sense of change was the subject of FUTURE SHOCK by Alvin Toffler. If Ben were graduating from high school in the movie, he might be ecstatic. Alas, he graduated from college and officially became an adult just when the culture of youth was taking off to new dimensions. He’s too young to identify with his parents generation but just old enough to feel out of sync with the youth culture. Thus, he feels alienated from old and young. And yet, he feels attracted to Mrs. Robinson who, though twice his age, seems defiant of growing older by making up her own rules. And part of the reason he may feel such attraction to Elaine is she’s still in school and therefore symbolizes the youth that has passed him by, at least in official capacity. Ben was following the track of being an Organization Man than a Creative Soul. Or, at the very least, he’s like an Early Beatle with suit-and-tie who suddenly finds himself transported to the Age of Aquarius. For older or more traditional audiences, it was a story about a guy who initially finds escapism with easy sex with an older woman but then falls in true love and wants commitment and marriage. As for the ending, it can be seen as a rebellion against social norms(as how many people crash weddings?) or confirmation of true love, the classic fairy-tale of a hero saving a damsel from distress.
Now, why would Elaine be attracted to Ben when Carl Smith is taller and more handsome(and has good prospects as a doctor)? Ben has personality. Also, Elaine has a soft side and feels for others. Carl Smith is so sure of himself whereas there is a passive/aggressive boyish side to Ben that needs mothering. So, her maternal instincts kick into gear in the presence of Ben. (She is actually more mother-like than Mrs. Robinson who seems bitter that her youth was cut short by pregnancy and marriage.) Also, Ben is a funny guy, and humor goes a long way. Furthermore, love isn’t only about sexual attraction but the feeling of being appreciated. A person can fall in love with the love shown him/her by the other. For Carl Smith, Elaine may be a good catch but not the only one. If she slips from his grasp, he will likely find another good catch. But for Ben, Elaine is the ONLY ONE, and she senses the depth of his passion for her.
And it’s also what happened between them at the night club. Ben was acting like a total ass but later confesses that he went against his nature due to parental pressure. Of course, that’s not really true as the real reason he tried to sabotage the date was because Mrs. Robinson had forbidden him to date her daughter. Anyway, something clicked in that moment. Elaine is a physically a fully blossomed woman, but there is still something of the little girl inside. You can tell she hasn’t yet lost her innocence, and she lives in something like a paper doll world. Ben realizes how much he hurt her, and he does everything to make amends and this creates a special bond between them. With the kiss, Elaine goes from weeping girl to a real woman, and Ben goes from a confused adult without direction to a man who finally understands what gives his life meaning: Elaine as his true love. (At the same time, there is a quality of puppy love.) With Mrs. Robinson, he was toyed with and used, and he used her in turn. It was just about sex and to stave off boredom. An escapism from life. But with Elaine, there is no guile and gamesmanship. He feels natural in her presence. His plan was for a short date where he’d act the jerk, make Elaine dislike him, take her home, and be done with it. But Elaine’s reaction in the night club is more that of a vulnerable girl than an angry bitch. He sees a side of her he never expected, and in turn, he feels born-again when he tries to console Elaine. It’s as if he’s finally found his true self and no longer feels so alienated. Thus, the problem was less social alienation than auto-alienation. It suggests that an individual is only half-a-person, therefore a person can only be complete when he meets one’s soulmate. It lends a mythic overtone to the movie — Greek mythology says Zeus separated men and women from their embrace, therefore life is about men and women trying to reconnect with their lost mates. Much has been made of the Christian and Jewish angle of the story, but perhaps the main appeal is closer to Greek mythology and Western fairy tales. Earlier in the decade, there was a hit French movie called BLACK ORPHEUS, the telling of the Greek myth with black actors. THE GRADUATE is like the Jewish Perseus. At any rate, it was this ‘subversive’ and multi-faceted blend of cynicism and sentimentality that made THE GRADUATE so special. But the same could be said of THE GODFATHER, which is both a heart-warming family story and a cold & ruthless gangster tale.
The perennial theme of Jewish alienation from a WASP-dominated mainstream American society played an important role in how the character of Benjamin Braddock—and the entire film—were conceived by Nichols—though this only became fully apparent to him after the film had been made.
But it works in the movie because even the character in the novel is alienated. Indeed, many leading characters in novels and movies are outsiders, eccentrics, oddballs, or mavericks. We find such characters more interesting. Even Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan is alienated from the System he works for. John Wayne’s character in THE SEARCHERS is something of a misfit, at odds not only with Indians but with fellow whites. Marlon Brando and James Dean became famous as malcontents. Orson Welles said he cast homosexual Anthony Perkins because his closeted neurosis might add something to the character of Joseph K. in THE TRIAL, and it seems Nichols had something similar in mind in having a Jewish character play Ben. I think it works better than it would have with Robert Redford, though a younger Paul Newman, as half-Jew and half-Aryan, might have been even better. Redford, though a capable actor, was rather colorless and inexpressive. The movie wouldn’t have been half-as-funny with Redford as Benjamin. Dustin Hoffman was an actor of limited range but fantastic at his best. His Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY is genius-acting.
Also, Hoffman-as-Ben has an ambiguous presence in the movie, making it all the more interesting. He’s both Jewish and Wasp. Boy and man. Awkward and aggressive. Timid and bold. Calculating and chaotic. The Jew/Wasp tensions within the character intensifiy the contradictions within Benjamin who is both eager and afraid to be free. Hoffman is short but physically fit. Topless, he does have the physique of a long-distance track star. Also, while not handsome, the young Hoffman is rather attractive from certain angles. There is also something of the ‘cute’ quality that Ringo had. And then, there’s the timing and intelligence in his acting, something truly rare in cinema as most actors aren’t known for brains.
Ben’s scream in the church is so reminiscent of Rod Steiger’s wailing at the end of THE PAWNBROKER. As for Wasps trapped in the church, that has nothing on the ending of DIRTY DOZEN where Nazi officers are barricaded in the basement and roasted alive with gasoline and grenades. That is one cynical movie. Nazis are so evil they deserve to be slaughtered like animals. But American heroes are a bunch of crooks, criminals, thugs, and psychos. It’s like an insane hashing of BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Truly a dirty movie.
Nichols cast Hoffman, “despite the fact that he was virtually unknown and looked nothing like the leading man described in the script, which called for a tall, blond track star, not a short, Jewish guy with a schnoz for the ages.”
But in the end, we must judge by results, and I think the success of THE GRADUATE is inseparable from Hoffman’s shell game of drama and humor. While an actor like Redford or Ryan O’Neal might have been closer in looks to the character in the novel, Hoffman had that blend of straight man and clown that made the role so different and unique. Also, the final part of the movie when Ben is speeding back and forth from LA and Berkeley has something of the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, the tales of underdogs who overcome all obstacles to end up with the girl. Robert Redford running off with the girl would seem less amazing and outrageous than Dustin Hoffman doing so. Buster Keaton was a short guy but one who out-maneuvered the competition and usually came out ahead. Same goes for Harold Lloyd, and especially as Nichols came from comedy background, he was looking for the most comic as well as dramatic actor, and he hit gold with Hoffman.
Now, take Jack Nicholson in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. The character in the novel is much stronger, a tough Irishman who takes on three Negroes in the shower and beats them all up. Nicholson’s McMurphy is smaller and weaker and no match for the Negroes, but it’s a masterly performance, and he came to own that role. Many, indeed most, movies deviate from the novel or the original screenplay, but at the end of the day, the only question that matters is “Does it work”? Hoffman made it work. But then, Victor Mature played Samson and Charlton Heston played Moses, and they made it work, at least as entertainment.
Hoffman’s anti-heroic character gave the green light for Hollywood to promote “the ethnic Jewish matinee idol and youth icon in the forms of George Segal, Elliot Gould, Richard Benjamin, Charles Grodin, and Gene Wilder.” These Jewish romantic leads were invariably paired onscreen with beautiful non-Jewish actresses like Marsha Mason, Candice Bergen, and (in the case of Dustin Hoffman) blondes like Mia Farrow, Faye Dunaway, Susan George, and Meryl Streep.
It’s been said that THE GRADUATE changed the rules of who can be a star in Hollywood, but this is a gross exaggeration. Hollywood always had lots of room for Jewish, ethnic, different, ugly, short, and weird actors, even among Wasps. Alan Ladd was a short guy. Humphrey Bogart, though Wasp, looked ethnic and could have passed for Italian, Greek, Spaniard, or Jew. But he was a big star. Short and funny-looking Mickey Rooney was one of the biggest stars of the 40s. James Cagney was no looker but a tremendous star. The Jewish Paul Muni was in many prestigious roles. Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson, both Jewish, became world famous. Short actors were nothing special in Hollywood. Many actors, if not downright short, were hardly tall. James Dean was 5’7. Marlon Brando was 5’9, not exactly short but far from tall. It could be that shorter men gravitate to acting because they have to be more expressive to gain the kind of attention that taller men usually get. How tall is Tom Cruise? Long before Dustin Hoffman became a household name, Frank Sinatra was a big movie star. He was only 5’7, had pocked face, and was Italian. And movie stardom was often less about looks than the hook. Certain actors and actresses, even if not handsome or pretty, had a certain screen presence, an allure. Take Charles Bronson who could even be said to be ugly. But he had a great movie face. Same was true of Telly Savalis and Anthony Quinn. Tony Curtis the Jew played a Norseman in THE VIKINGS and did a pretty good job.
As for George Segal, Elliot Gould, Richard Benjamin, Charles Grodin, and Gene Wilder, they usually starred in lesser or more ‘independent’ productions. Among the new batch of Jewish actors, the only one whose success matched that of Hoffman in the 70s and 80s was maybe Gene Hackman(though Henry Winkler hit pay dirt as the Fonz on HAPPY DAYS, but that was TV). Richard Dreyfus seemed to be on the up and up but soon faded. Of course, one could count Harrison Ford as Jewish, or half-Jewish. Woody Allen might qualify but he was appreciated more as ‘auteur’ than actor. (Correction. Gene Hackman doesn’t seem to be Jewish.)
Hoffman won the role over Charles Grodin, another Jewish actor who was no model of conventional WASP good looks.
Grodin, though no heartthrob, had a certain goofy charm. And unlike in THE GRADUATE where everything is ‘crypto’, THE HEARTBREAK KID is very much a public airing of the Jewish Male obsession with the ‘shikse’. It is in satirical than romantic mode(as in the case of THE GRADUATE) and, as such, cinematically less interesting but even more revealing of the Jewish sensibility. Hilarious stuff.
Such overt anti-Christian imagery jarred with the film’s first audiences—but was only the start of Hollywood’s disparagement of Christianity, and seems tame by today’s standards.
Maybe Jews are doing white people a favor by bashing Christianity, a religion that originated from renegade Jews. In a way, what is more ‘crypto-Jewish’ than Christianity? Though Christ is often depicted in Western Art as an Aryan-looking fellow, He was actually Jewish and probably looked more like Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky. And speaking of neurosis, how about the story of a Man who claimed to be the Son of God and got Himself killed over it? Western Civilization is founded on Jewish Neurosis. So, even though Hoffman the Jew plays a Wasp in THE GRADUATE, white people over the eons have been worshiping a Jew with a big nose in the image of European whites. And look at the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. I’m thinking that David, being Jewish, looked more like Jerry Seinfeld or Sean Penn, but the statue resembles something out of Greco-Roman mythology.
At any rate, when will whites find their own covenant with the ultimate power of the universe? As long as whites keep with Christianity, it means they are forever beholden to the imagination and vision of Jews. Also, Christianity, if followed to the letter, is a death cult as we are now seeing in the West. If Christian West was powerful in the past, it was because it heeded only about 1/4 of Jesus’ teachings. Go beyond that, and you end up dead. And if you don’t, you get blamed for hypocrisy, preaching ‘turn the other cheek’ while using violence to conquer and control the world. Christianity has been a great religion, but it is now dead. It’s very sad in a way, but it means the white race must finally GRADUATE toward a new consciousness with prophets of its own that can meditate on the ultimate power and receive the covenant that has meaning to whites and whites alone.
By the way, thing in the church happens so fast that it hardly registers as an anti-Christian screed. And, whatever the significance of Ben wielding the cross as a weapon, it is funny as hell, and as the characters in THE WILD BUNCH say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The outrage element is part of the fun. A little irreverence never hurt anyone.
Also, just look at the church. Its design is so Californian, so modernist and soulless. It looks like a bleached shell devoid of spiritual meaning. A church as status-symbol of the affluent and modern. So, it’s less a Christian ceremony than a matter of custom. They get married in a church because it’s just what people do. And who are among the attendees? None other than Mrs. Robinson, hardly a virtuous character. And there’s Mr. Robinson who pressured his daughter into marrying Carl Smith out of his seething rage at Ben. We don’t know much about Smith the ‘make-out king’, but he doesn’t seem the spiritual type. So, even without Ben’s presence, the wedding is just an empty show, a ritual devoid of spiritual or even much moral meaning. Elaine is getting married to console her father. Her heart is really with Ben.
Ben’s wielding the cross as a weapon could be seen as a desecration of Christianity, but it could also mean he’s the christ-like figure for true love. He’s willing to sacrifice everything, even sanity and limb, for the girl he loves.
The problem with clinging to Christianity in our age is it no longer provides the answers. As such, people need to seek out new visions and find new directions. It’s like a horse. It is highly useful when strong and hardy. But what use is a dead horse? Christianity is now a dead horse. In Europe, it’s totally dead. They say America is still religious, but no one gets fired or blacklisted for insulting God, Jesus, or Paul. But you may be fired and blacklisted even at a so-called ‘conservative’ Christian institution if you criticize Fentanyl Floyd or Jewish promotion of globo-homo. For many Christians, even those on the ‘right’, the highest holies are Jews, Negroes, and Homos. Indeed, many churches would have us believe that god and jesus serve Jews, homos, and blacks than anything else.
Christianity has become a suicide pact. If Christianity still had martial spirit, it would be in much better shape. In the past, Christianity served the West well in the form of ‘hypochristianity’. Christianity had to be hypocritical in order to survive and expand. The teachings of Jesus, such as ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘meek shall inherit the earth’, don’t do much for worldly power. Jesus urged people to give away all their wealth, live in righteous poverty, and meditate on spiritual matters. But people who act that way end up dead or oppressed. If they believe in Heaven, they may expect something better in the afterlife. But most people are attached to the real world, and power is about money, weapons, hierarchy, and violence. So, the Christian West at its peak preached one thing but practiced something other. Now, the West wasn’t purely hypocritical and much of its values & practices derived from Christian morality. Still, the kindly side of the West relied on the hard side that kept and expanded power by ruthless means.
But such kind of hypocrisy is no longer tenable, especially as Jews gained power in the West and never lose sleep pointing out all the hypocrisies of the West. This shame has been internalized by most whites. This has led to whites either rejecting Christianity or trying to practice a Christianity that is closer to the spirit of Jesus’s teachings… which can only serve as a death/suicide cult. Worse, there are so many idiots or opportunists who seek to use the church as a club for other agendas, often satanic in nature, like globo-homo and worship of savage Negro as Magic Negro. And of course, many non-religious and anti-religious people are possessed of a zealotry derived from puritanical strains of Christianity. If the church in our times is an empty shell devoid of spiritual passion, post-Christian passion of radicals is like fanaticism without a meaningful vessel. Shell without flesh and flesh without shell are, of course, both doomed. Form without content and content without form are both ultimately useless. Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, is dead as a useful and virile creed. When the Vatican has Pope Francis as top leader, what does that say? What is Mainline church in the US but promotion of globo-homo and Magic Negro? What is Evangelicalism but about More Wars for ‘Muh Israel’? There is the Orthodox Church, but it has no meaning to most Greeks who are secular. And in Russia, it is a museum culture than a living one despite all the new cathedrals built.
In the first scene of the film, Benjamin rides to the left on an airport conveyor belt as everyone else accedes to the airport’s public announcement system’s request to “Please stay to the right.”
I think ‘stay on the right’ in that moment meant stay to the right on the conveyor belt or in walkways, which is conventional rule in all places. It’s like people usually walk on the right side no matter which way they’re going.
In One Dimensional Man, he argued that advanced industrial societies like the United States repress their populations by creating false needs via mass advertising, industrial management, and modes of thought which resulted in a “one dimensional” universe of thought and behavior which stifled people’s capacity for critical thought and oppositional behavior.
Even if we disagree with Herbert Marcuse’s solutions, was he wrong in his critique of consumer-capitalism? Look all around today, and corporate-consumer-capitalism is a big part of the problem. The rise of Pop Culture as Main Culture has led to the one-dimensional idiot. And we need critical thought and oppositional thought more than ever.
In the end, the real problem of whites was not ‘authoritarianism’ but complacency. Post-war boom made white people lower their guard and care mostly about the good life. They became passionless with crass materialism. The boomer generation rebelled against such complacency with utopian dreams and commitment to authenticity, but they too came under the power of materialism as their main inspirations came from pop music and TV. Like Peter Fonda said in EASY RIDER, ‘We blew it’. If the Greatest Generation drowned in alcohol, the boomers failed to find nirvana in pot smoke, which is now just more big business.
Reich claimed the role of traditional “repressive” Western sexual morality was “to produce acquiescent subjects who, despite distress and humiliation, are adjusted to the authoritarian order.” Marcuse agreed with Reich that the “liberation of sexuality and the creation of non-hierarchical democratic structures in the family, workplace and society at large would create personalities resistant to fascism.”
There is obviously some truth to their claims. Any form of repression, sexual or otherwise, is to create a more stable order of unity and consensus. And it is true that ‘sexual liberation’ will undermine fascism as each boy and girl will be more into hedonism and self-gratification than suppressing one’s individual desires for the good of the whole, the volk. If German youths in the 1930s had mostly been into sex, drugs, and rock & roll, would they have paid any heed to Hitler? And same could be said for youths under communism, which is why communist nations did all they could to suppress individualism as expressions of capitalism.
More interesting is why Marcuse and others blamed capitalism for the repression when it was obviously the forces of capitalism that were leading to the triumph of hedonism, ‘sexual liberation’, individualism, and youth culture of impatience. Maybe, it was difficult to immediately abandon the ideology, Marxism, that had shaped them for so long. Consciously or subconsciously, maybe the Frankfurt School was seeking to serve as the bridge that would allow the left to go from communism to capitalism as the more useful ideology.
The Frankfurters were right that ‘sexual liberation’ would be bad for fascism. But they overlooked how ‘sexual liberation’ would lead to the rise of new barbarism. After all, sexual politics is hardly egalitarian as alpha males usually win and as women prefer winners over losers. Some women seek out long-term winners who gain success in professions, but other women seek out short-term winners: the thugs, studs, and athletes. So, instead of resulting in the peaceful eternal summer of love where everyone is happy with good vibes, it has led to the rise of demented heavy metal culture, rap culture, pornification of even kiddie culture, and countless displays of narcissism & vanity, indeed as if everyone is a diva, his or her own ‘hitler’. Fascism represses and channels virile barbarian energies in the service of civilization whereas the raw barbarian energies of ‘sexual liberation’ has led to the degradation of family and society, resulting in lots of violence and stupidity. Black African savages demonstrated that sexual licentiousness is no immunity to ultra-violence. Being sexually far less inhibited, blacks were generally unable to repress their wilder energies for the development of civilization, but they were murderous just the same. And the European barbarians long long ago were less hung up about sexual morality(before the coming of Christianity and its stricter ethos), but did that prevent them from rampaging other communities and raping and pillaging, i.e. acting like Alex and his droogs in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE? Indeed, people like Marcuse seem blind to the fact that National Socialism gained in popularity precisely because Jews pushed the most demented kind of anti-values in the Weimar Period, leading to a new barbarism. Degenerate personality leads to social chaos, which leads to people demanding an authoritarian personality to clean up the mess.
Frankfurt School was right to critique capitalism-consumerism and its mind-numbing and conformist influences, but its proposed solutions were useless because people like Herbert Marcuse were not honest, not least with themselves. Marcuse wailed against fascism, but he meant goy fascism. As he was pro-Zionist, he was for Jewish fascism. This is a key truth about Jews. They are so virulently anti-fascist precisely because they want fascism only for themselves. It is through fascism that both the right wing and left wing of a people can unite into a combined force. Fascism serves as the bridge and bond between left and right. Don’t make them fight one another but work together. This was the basis for National Socialism and Zionism. Where both ultimately failed morally is they went from nationalism to imperialism. Just like Jews hated Christianity and Islam for passing the secrets of the Jewish God to goyim, they hate fascism because it allows goyim to develop the kind of power specialized by Jews. Leo Strauss was a ‘rightist’ while Herbert Marcuse was a ‘leftist’. But what did they have in common? They were proudly Jewish and Zionist. For all their ideological discourse, identity came first. Zionism was created by Jewish socialists and Jewish capitalists working together. So, even as whites should give credit where it’s due — Frankfurters made useful criticism of capitalism and consumerism — , they must forge their own answers and solutions to problems, one that prioritizes the needs of whites. Jews are often interesting in their critique but useless in their proposed solutions, at least for goyim, as the utmost priority of Jews is to maximize Jewish power, not to make goyim more powerful. Frankfurt School is like a doctor that diagnoses the disease but advises the wrong cure.
In a way, much of modern form of Jewish Alienation derived from acceptance by White Society. Jews were both ragging Wasps for not being sufficiently accepting of Jews AND fretting too much assimilation may lead to loss of Jewish identity.
So, even as Jews felt alienated from Wasps, they also felt increasing alienation from their own roots. The more they became modern and Western, the less they felt traditionally bound to Jewishness. It’s one reason why Jews cooked up ersatz-form of being Jewish, such as being fixated on the Holocaust or celebrating Globo-Homo. Barbra Streisand’s YENTL is both celebratory and critical of Jewish Tradition, and it features a woman posing as a man to be accepted into the world of Rabbis. Around the same time, Blake Edwards made VICTOR/VICTORIA and soon after, there was TOOTSIE where Hoffman plays a ‘woman’. And Woody Allen made ZELIG. Paradoxically, Allen’s film seems to imply that the thing that Jews most fear as being harmful to Jewishness, which is assimilation, is also what most defines Jewishness. In other words, Jews have developed remarkably adaptive strategies of assimilation. And yet, even as Jews morph and blend into goy societies, at the end of the day, they revert back to Jewishness; they don’t really transform into the other. It’s like an octopus can take on all sorts of shapes but returns to being an octopus. But if an octopus is so fluid and flexible in its shape and structure, is there a core structure to octopus-ness? Or is the essence of the octopus to have no definite form? It’s no wonder Jews are so into trans-business where there can be infinite number of ‘genders’. It’s like sexual Houdini-ism. ZELIG is almost like a satire of an intellectual Nazi movie about Jews.