The first time I saw the ending, I was young and naïve. My mind was addled by seeing homage’s of it in The Simpsons and Wayne’s World. I first viewed it as a heroic ending. The Boy got the Girl, the antagonists were vanquished, if only for a little while. I never really watched their faces. Nor did I grasp what the shot was trying to say. To me, it was all so very… safe.
It was only during a re-watch with my girlfriend, that my ignorance slapped me in the face. The foolhardiness of the Benjamin’s “plan”. The fact that there is no plan at all. Their faces not only show their youth, but just how lost they are at such a tentative and esoteric point at their life. I saw echoes of Mrs Robinson and her reasoning behind what she was trying to do despite her methods. In their faces I noticed their realisation. There’s beauty fading in that take, and they’re only just finding out. The moment is bittersweet. Their decision may leave them as jaded as those they’ve just left. The film’s title becomes a cruel joke. The Graduate? Of what? Certainly not Life. He has a lot to learn.
When a filmmaker can crystallise all the fear, worry, jaded and misguidedness of youth, his characters feel throughout the narrative, compile it into one moment and make this captured malaise seem so universal and iconic, it is then that we have a real storyteller. R.I.P Mike Nichols.