Help Me Ma, I Relate to the Main Character and Now I’m Romanticizing My Issues

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Jake Hall, Writer

Virgin red Alfa Romeo. Palm tree brown tiki bar. Perfectly pink bed sheets. An eyeful of ecstasy—especially for ones clouded by the falling leaves of a Southern Autumn. Twinkling guitars and falling chimes. Bass lines moving with gear shifts. Harmonies that prop you up through the night. Velvet to ears cut by grating lectures and late bells.

Subtle stills linger on. The spires of the Golden Gate Bridge seen while burning down the freeway. Chrome hubcaps parked in front of moneyed lawns. Dustin Hoffman languishing on a windowsill.

As I stood in the dead grass of my backyard just a few inches off the patio, rain beating my chin as I stared at the stars, I tried to assemble these sounds and images in my head.

A college graduate comes home to Pasadena. Preppy clothes and a detached face. House party in his honor; he’s driven to his room.

Sounds familiar

Drives lady friend of parents’ home. She tries to seduce him, he runs off.

Sounds (somewhat) familiar.

Later takes her up on the offer, an affair erupts.

Not so familiar.

Between rendezvous, the Graduate grows dispassionate, disinterested in the path his parents set up for him. Neighbor’s daughter comes home. He and her in love. Daughter finds out about the affair, love broken and now the Graduate can’t even be with the one he loves.

Daughter goes off to Berkeley, Graduate follows her. She’s going to get married. He crashes said wedding. They run off together. The End

A basic synopsis of the 1966 film, The Graduate. Though lacking any of the screenwriting talent that spurs the movie. The Mike Nichols productions stars Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock (the eponymous Graduate), Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson (Note the Mrs.), and Katharine Ross as Eileen Robinson (the Daughter, obviously). Placing high in most “Greatest Films of All Time” lists, this movie was conveniently released on the precipice of the chaos of the 1960s, finding mass appeal (i.e. $43,100,000 at the box office in one year) with its depiction of a dejected young adult dissatisfied with society. That includes his parents, his future, his supposed need to get a job, and really just life at large.

Just like every other kid, eh?

Especially this kid. Braddock is described as a track star, class president, debate team captain, honors student, chief editor of the school paper, Ivy Leaguer. Now my extracurriculars aren’t that glamourous—A/V pro, cross country harrier, honors student, Chipper correspondent, 4H Vice President, and a host of other things that require too much explanation.

But I felt closer to Braddock when he slinked off to his room during a party held in his honor. I’m sure we’ve all been there—too many people in your own house, let’s vanish. Well, I’ve been there at least, I’ve been there a lot. So, when the over-achiever falls to pieces and begins spending his days literally floating around in a pool, I could do more than relate.

Now I didn’t start speeding down I-75 or sleeping with my neighbor. I was firmly stuck in the exposition—laying around in a puddle of melancholy, sighing like only a teenager can. For the next few months after watching The Graduate I was still in this milieu of restlessness. The aimlessness of my life had been put under a magnifying glass. ‘The future’ was suddenly unrealized, and rather unpromising.

I would like to say those moments of lying in bed, eating left over pizza in the rain at midnight, pulling all-nighters and walking as far as I could in one direction helped me self-actualize and find satisfaction. Or that after fervent reflection and hard work I improved myself and now I go about my day, a happy and productive worker. But I can’t lie (not here at least…). Sometime in October 2021, a silly little 60s film showed me an awkward overachiever, unhappy in countless ways. Despite being a 15-year-old in my salad days, I sympathized—maybe a little too much.

And so opened another chapter of my life. Or era. Or some other self-serving synonym. I am known to be a little weird. But please forgive me, I’m just trying to stay alive. Because the alternative to my caffeine addiction, and rude asides, and odd interests and manners, and a desire to go against the grain whenever possible, is me lying in bed, staring at walls, asking myself why. Why Here, Why Now, Why Ever?

So go watch The Graduate, or don’t. But do ask yourself why. Why do you do this or that? Think that or believe this? Where are you going? How? Because that’s what I had to do after watching the film. What I am trying to say is—if you’re not constantly in some sort of existential crisis that is beyond your comprehension, I’m not sure if you’re entirely human. And if you’re not permanently trying to move forward with life, I’d like to see you take a sentience test.