Monday, May 4, 2009

Benjamin Braddock, The Birth of the Boom, Part 1

If you’d like to get gut level insight into what the Baby Boomers are about, watch The Graduate again, or at least the final scenes. The last few minutes of the film offer a vivid depiction of individualism in action, and it shows just how nonrational 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. It’s not clear whether this man-child is alienated and adrift or just plain lazy, but he sure is horny. After graduating from college, his parents prod him, while he pokes his paramour. Gradually, he begins to grapple with the shifting sexual mores of the 60s, as well as his own feelings of guilt and estrangement.

As the film progresses, Benjamin becomes increasing 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. As his self-absorption grows more focused, his individuality begins to poke its head out of the clouds of apathy. As a result, his post-adolescent discontent with the status quo becomes intensified and validated, at least in his own mind.

Watching this unfold is like viewing the birth of Boomer individualism, which may have developed as an easy and gratifying answer for a generation that felt confused, exploited and betrayed by “The Man.” 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, so be sure to come back for Part II.

1 comment:

Christopher Simpson said...

Interesting analysis. I'd never viewed it quite like that.