Need Some Insight? Watch 'The Graduate' Again

Looking to get a little gut-level insight into what the Baby Boomers are about? Then watch "The Graduate" again. The end of the film offers a vivid depiction of individualism in action, and it shows just how irrational a force it can be.

As you'll recall, Benjamin Braddock is a freshly graduated nebbish who becomes the sex object of an alluring middle-aged adulteress, Mrs. Robinson.

As the film progresses, Benjamin becomes increasingly conflicted as he rebels against society's conventional customs and stifling expectations. Commitment to the "plastics" lifestyle doesn't resonate with him, so he struggles to discover what he truly wants.

Watching this unfold is like viewing the birth of Boomer individualism. Benjamin's own Coming of Age odyssey provides no hint of where it might end up. One thing is clear, however, he has discovered that he can mollify his yearnings by exercising his independence and ingenuity, two hallmarks of Boomer individualism. For much of the movie, his rebellion is mostly an internal struggle. But when he finally takes decisive action, it's a compelling example of the kind of mindset that gave birth to the Boomers.



"The Graduate" put an exclamation point on the growing dissatisfaction that budding Baby Boomers had with the status quo. That discontent grew exponentially as the Boomers turned away from the alienation bred by "things as they should be" and looked inward for new and unique ways to create meaningful lives.

Individualism became the normative value for Boomers as the horrors of the Vietnam War, assassinations and charred inner cities gave way to the hardcore cynicism born of the post-Watergate era. For the Boomers, "Don't trust anyone over 30" ultimately morphed into what might be individualism's anthem: "Don't trust anyone but yourself."

Impulsive individualism was reflected in "The Graduate"'s final, and most telling, scene, when Benjamin rescues Elaine from the all-too predictable life promised by her white-bread groom. The symbolism of individuality versus conventionality is joyously portrayed as the once-mousy Benjamin barges in on one of society's most solemn ceremonies and steals the bride right off the altar. Benjamin's passionate appeal is so convincing that she readily rejects a world that has inflicted so many unwelcome expectations on her delicate psyche.

As a last resort, Mrs. Robinson insists, "It's too late!" Elaine answers, "Not for me!"

In a final gesture of contempt, Benjamin uses a large gold cross -- his Excalibur -- to fend off their pursuers. He then uses it like a dead bolt on the church's big glass doors, locking the enemy in their own little world and out of his and Elaine's.

The newly liberated couple streaks to the nearest bus stop, two mavericks on a heady journey toward who knows where. With everyone and everything left behind, they ride off in the back of a bus, secure in the knowledge that their declaration of independence has prevailed over the forces of orthodoxy that threatened to rob them of their very souls.

Like all good art, "The Graduate" was ahead of its time in the way it so vividly showcased the Boomers' penchant for individualism. With time, that uncompromising attitude toward the world at large has become a primary value that colors the way Boomers make decisions about everything from divorce to honeymooning to buying annuities and retirement villas.

After a torrid weekend of passion, Benjamin and Elaine probably went their separate ways. But although they may have ultimately settled for a more conventional lifestyle than the finale might suggest, it's highly unlikely that they ever abandoned the belief that they're each the center of their own little universe. And, in the final analysis, living that belief is what being a Baby Boomer is all about.

2 comments about "Need Some Insight? Watch 'The Graduate' Again".
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  1. Mark Burrell from Tongal, January 6, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.

    Enough of baby boomers being so great. That individualism and pseudo sense of caring but never doing has left this country in it's worst condition since 1860.

  2. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group, January 6, 2011 at 4:15 p.m.

    Wouldn't it be just as true to say that just about every generation rebels and finds a way to break from their parents? Would you say that Romeo, by running away with Juliet, was expressing "individualism"?

    All Baby Boomers are not the same. Some are individualists, many are not. In fact, I'd say most Boomers follow the crowd, just like most people -- no matter what their age.

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