I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched The Graduate. Oddly enough, it’s not a movie I set out to watch, but rather one that finds me. Like last night after dinner for example, Benjamin Braddock and Mrs Robinson found me again through no effort of my own. As if I were fated to watch The Graduate for the umpteenth time.
You’d think not owning a tv and not having the film on DVD would be enough to keep me safe from its 105 minute run time. But no. Yesterday I was fated to watch it, and nothing would get in its way.
Simon & Garfunkel would work their acoustic arithmetic.
Mrs Robinson would ask Benjamin, “Would you like me to seduce you?”
Elaine would cry under the stripper’s pendulous propeller breasts.
Benjamin would kiss Elaine and he would swing the crucifix to make their great escape.
Fate. My fate.
But what would strike me as the lynchpin this time around would be the role of the swimming pool.
Learning How to Dive
For his 21st birthday, Benjamin’s parents give him a complete set of scuba gear. To show off their present in front of all their guests, they force Benjamin to dive into the swimming pool wearing this getup. His father pushes him down when he has trouble submerging. And then the camera distances itself from Benjamin, leaving him uncomfortable at the bottom of the pool, a drowned 21-year-old virgin.
The segue into the next scene is a voice-over of Benjamin calling Mrs Robinson. He tells her he is in the Taft Hotel. He clumsily mentions her offer.
She tells him to give her an hour. She tells him to get a room.
The next time the swimming pool makes its appearance is after Benjamin’s first night with Mrs Robinson. This time, the graduate is not sitting apathetically on the bottom, but floating on the surface. He wears shades, he drinks beer, he looks bronzed, in control.
He is a golden god.
In this way, right from the start, the swimming pool has two very literal levels. Below and above water. The former a sign of weight, depression. The latter weightlessness, elation.
As the affair progresses, as Benjamin learns the ropes, becomes more in tune with the cougar, he discovers a third level in the pool: diving in and swimming underwater as opposed to sitting listlessly on the bottom or floating complacently on top.
This third level is playful, exuberant. This third level is symbolic of mastery. Yes, Benjamin has become a master of his own domain.
That is why the film transitions seamlessly from Benjamin swimming masterfully underwater to climaxing masterfully on top of Mrs Robinson.
He has become a fluent lover, and she is his float, his salvation.