Thursday, September 04, 2008

Scott on the Sound of Silence and the Graduate

[Scott discusses a famous film moment, and I ask a question at the end.]

Here's the clip of the last few minutes of The Graduate just to refresh everyone's memory.

Last week I posted “Sound of Silence” at the end of The Graduate as my all-time favorite ending music for a film. This is because, the moment that the song enters, the ending is transformed from typical happy ending into a far more poignant moment that would become symbolic of the uncertainty of an entire generation.

The final few minutes of The Graduate has become one of the most parodied/homaged sequences in film history and the basic trope of this ending has become one of the most imitated. Countless romantic comedies have ended with a boy/girl rushing to stop the wedding/departure/bar mitzvah of the object of their affection. This can be seen in movies as diverse as Crocodile Dundee, Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding and pretty much every other Julia Roberts vehicle.

The difference in The Graduate comes about in that final thirty seconds before the credits roll. First of all, there is the use of “Sound Of Silence”, not only is this song far from celebratory in its tone but it has also served as a theme of uncertainty and lack of direction throughout the film. Then, we also have that moment where Ben and Elaine stare forward and take a deep breath before the smiles slowly fade from their faces. I once heard this referred to as the movie’s “Oh, Shit!” moment. This is the moment where the consequences of their actions finally set in; both have become so desperate to escape their past that they are willing to burn every bridge behind them by storming out of the wedding. They have also invested a great deal of their future happiness in one another, in a relationship that still has a lot of issues that need to be worked out, mainly, that they don’t even really know each other that well (they’ve had one date and a few days of Ben pestering Elaine), not to mention the fact that he had and affair with her mother. It is only in the final few seconds, however, that they realize all of this. Their only hope is that their future life, however uncertain, is better than the lives that they are leaving behind.

Had the movie ended thirty seconds earlier, it still would have been a great movie, perhaps it would still even be a classic but those final seconds that turn all the conventions of ‘Happily Ever After’ on its ear, beautifully emphasized through the use of “Sound of Silence”, are what truly make this film a masterpiece.

[Here is my question -- this moment is so famous, but I cannot, off the top of my head, really think of many films that have learned from it, incorporated it, revised it, or played with it in any way other than parody. Maybe there are tons, but they are not coming to me. What am I missing?]


scott91777 said...


That's exactly one of the points I was going for with this :)

Jason said...

Have you guys heard the story -- I don't know if it's true, I never confired it myself -- that that moment is not in the script? That it was actually the director's idea to leave the camera running after the actors were out of lines, forcing both of them to sit there awkwardly wondering what to do next? If it's true, it's one of the reasons the moment works so well, I imagine. It's actually completely genuine.

Also, re: Geoff's question -- There is some film that I have never seen (man, I'm so helpful in this post), but I read a description for and it went something like, "We all have seen it happen in a dozen romantic comedies -- when the leading man shows up at the leading lady's wedding, and convinces her to run off with him. Finally, here's a movie that tells the story of that poor schmuck who got left at the altar."

Can't recall the name of the film ... it was only a couple years ago ...

Paul said...

I think the freeze frame zoom at the end of Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) equals in impact of uncertainty of the future. This is proceeded by an extended continual shot of Antoine running through the countryside. The entire movie is amazing. And hey, if the Simpsons parodied it, you know it's good!

scott91777 said...


"Hello Grandpa My Old Friend...."


Or did they parody 400 Blows too?

Paul said...

The parody of 400 Blows was during the film festival episode. Nelson's troubled childhood docu was spot-on, down to the freeze frame zoom.

Anonymous said...

Still in Africa, limited bandwidth, very briefly:

What about _The Candidate_? There's the (moderately) famous scene at the end:

"The votes are counted and McKay wins. In one of the movie’s more famous scenes, McKay escapes the victory party and pulls Lucas into a room while throngs of journalists clamor outside. McKay then asks Lucas: “Marvin ... What do we do now?” The media throng arrives to drag them out at that moment and McKay never receives an answer."

This was done in 1972, when_The Graduate_ was still fresh in everyone's mind. Note the similar titles. Both movies are about artifice and social roles, with a male lead who's conflicted between what he "should" be or want and what he really does. And both Redford and Hoffman have inappropriate affairs -- Hoffman with Mrs. Robinson, Redford with a staffer -- which are going nowhere, but show the character's indecision or moral ambiguity.

So while I don't know for sure, at first glance it looks like the end of _The Candidate_ is at least riffing on the end of _The Graduate_.

Okay, back to writing my report.

Doug M.

Georgia Xanthopoulou said...

The end of the Graduate is pretty iconic, no matter how little it has been included in the conscience of romantic comedy films to come. Woody Allen definitely leaves endings open and his characters quite unimpressed with how they ve done in life... There is a minor revelation about themselves but no life changing moment that seals their happiness.

If you're interested, check out my article which features some thoughts on the Graduate's ending!

slim said...

I realize this is a very old post but I just came across it and afterward watched a film which I think has a similar ending. Like there were smiles and looks of uncertainty and although the music was not iconic- we definitely left feeling like the characters weren't destined for happiness. This film is Like Crazy. What do you think?