It was a hard life being middle-class in California in the mid sixties. Your parents buy you an Alfa Romeo Duetto as a graduation present. You have to spend weary afternoons floating around in your pool with your sunglasses on. People are constantly harassing you to go out on dates with beautiful college women. And to make matters even worse, attractive middle-aged woman are seducing you without so much as a by your leave.
Naturally such a state of affairs would promote and existential crisis in any spoilt, rich kid and Benjamin Braddock is no exception.
He desperately wants to find away to escape from all this shallow hypocrisy, while being immaculately dressed in a fine and very contemporary-looking preppy wardrobe (somewhere between Gant and APC) and driving very fast in his shiny red sports car.
Yes it’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for the led character in Mike Nicholls adaptation of Charles Webb’s novel, which I viewed again recently at ‘Film Forum’.
At the time we would be encouraged to contrast Benjamin’s quirky awkward persona with the self-deceiving and morally compromised parents. Yet as we grow older we recognize the parents for what they are, people to whom life has happened, who have made bad decisions or even, in the case of Mrs. Robinson’s shotgun marriage, been forced into them by society.
Ben is right to want to break with this past but if we think about it, if he had an affair with a married woman is he likely to always be as upstanding and moral in the future? Isn’t it highly probable he becomes like his parents but worse? I like to imagine him married and living in Laguna Beach in the early seventies but attending key parties and swinging to escape his latest malaise.
In the end Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant portrayal of this anxious soul, helps illuminate the darkness that lives in him. It’s noticeable that many of his actions; from beginning the affair with Mrs.Robinson to going to Berkley to try and get her daughter to marry him, always end up meeting with success because rather like the old TV detective Colombo there is something very smart underneath all that bumbling.
Charming Benjamin Braddock knows how to get what he wants and has been brought up with the sense of entitlement that makes it very likely he gets it.