Uncertainty and The Graduate

Two days ago, I graduated with a first class degree. I have a graduate job locked down. I am moving into a flat with my boyfriend in a little over a week. I have the beginnings of a pathway laid out in front of me. However, like any recent graduate, I feel a nagging sense of uncertainty. Until now, my life had been a series of ladders; do well in GCSEs in order to go to sixth form. Do well in A-Levels in order to go to university. Do well in university in order to…

That’s where the ladder ends. And now I have my entire life in front of me, and I can do anything I want. But what do I want? The Graduate is a film which explores this sense of unease with a deft hand. And it is a film which, until now, I had never seen. Which, for a supposed film lover, I know, is a travesty. But we all have gaps in our knowledge (until last weekend, I hadn’t seen Dirty Dancing, either).

The Graduate explores the post-college life of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), as he returns home to his parents and grapples with the idea of having nothing, and everything, to do. It explores how he finds some semblance of meaning within his brief affair with Mrs Robinson, which gives him something, anything, to look forward to. His self-loathing afterwards is almost tangible. Braddock medicates his anxiety through this illicit affair, although in 2017 Mrs Robinson’s behaviour comes off as almost predatory.

Benjamin is different to the modern day graduate in many ways- he is innocent, a virgin, for one thing, and completely inexperienced. He is a blank page, and acts as though he has not yet become a man. Benjamin lives in a suspended state of adolescence, at the age of 21. On his return from college, he is treated with the revere of a hero returning from war. His parents, and their peers, congratulate him time and time again for his achievements (mirrored in 2017 by the adoring Facebook comments left by my mum’s friends on my graduation photo). This serves only to compound his sense of loss- the loss of student life. The loss of his sense of achievement, the loss of his extra-curriculars, and the loss of a world he had spent four years building around him.

There is also that almost too-real feeling of an ill fit between your aspirations and your reality. Benjamin is a man whose achievements in life, alongside his aspirations, have been built up to insurmountable heights during his academic career. Now, upon his graduation, he wants to be “different” from his parents. Yet he is pulled aside and told that “plastics” are the way to go. We all spend our years in education dreaming of how we might spend our lives afterwards, and for many those aspirations remain a pipe-dream. The Graduate is not afraid to confront that reality head-on. We will not become astronaughts, peace envoys or poets. For many of us, the future lies in plastics or something similarly disappointing.

Perhaps the bravest move The Graduate makes is to leave the question of Benjamin’s future wide open. Although he receives a part of his happy ending, we never learn what he actually finds to do with his life. Although he finds love and companionship, his path still escapes him. What The Graduate does well is to convey every graduate’s sense of uncertainty, despair and loss, coupled with the unending opportunity they are faced with, but can’t quite bring themselves to reach out and grab. I am a graduate with some semblance of a path ahead of me, yet The Graduate managed to leave me feeling more bewildered than ever.

 

It’s been a while…

But I’m back! For over a year I’ve willfully neglected this blog. Last year, I worked for a major studio and this meant that writing about film had to take a backseat. However, film is something that I will always love to talk about, and to write about, and I have decided to dust off this old blog and get things going again. Expect reviews, (unasked for) opinion and discussion in the very near future. I’m excited!

LFF REVIEW: Serena

Serena-2014

A movie is a tangled mass of hundreds of variables. Even those that seem like a sure bet- acclaimed source material, tried-and-tested pairing of A-list actors, Oscar-winning director- can end up being an utter disappointment. In the curious case of Serena, a film riddled with problems, signs of trouble arose when it appeared that no distributor was willing to touch it. Production on Serena finished in 2012; yet it limped along for nearly two years, unseen, before finally clawing its way into the London Film Festival. This is what sparked my curiosity- how could a period drama, once tipped for awards-season success, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper- not be snapped up right away? What could have gone so horribly wrong?

The interesting thing to note with Serena is that it’s not a complete disaster- it has its problems, sure, but I still found it to be, at least for some of that bloated runtime, an engaging romantic drama. Lawrence’s titular performance, while not her best work, is still convincing, if slightly patchy. It is Cooper who turns in wooden, uncharacteristically lazy work. The pair still have the chemistry that worked so well in Silver Linings Playlist, but some of that sharpness has been lost along the way.

It is hard to like, or even pity, any of the characters we meet in Serena’s depression-era logging camp. Serena herself is complex, outspoken, charismatic- your typical Jennifer Lawrence character reincarnated into the early 1930s. She is an orphan, after losing her entire family in a terrible accident. She is cool, with her bleached tresses and icy gaze, and Cooper’s George Pemberton tells her that he wants to marry her on their first meeting. This film tries so hard to make Serena intriguing that ultimately the audience loses all interest, or in the case of the audience at LFF, burst into laughter. That’s right, some moments in Serena are so unintentionally ridiculous that the audience, on several occasions, couldn’t help but laugh.

The film’s frequent use of ham-fisted metaphors is another problem to attribute to the script. Serena is likened to a white horse, then an eagle. Then a wildcat. Serena exhausts itself by trying to be profound when all it really needed was to find a rhythm. The editing and the script are disjointed, rushed in places, stretched out in others. Serena is a film that cannot decide what it wants to be. In parts, I felt truly gripped by Serena. Lawrence was at least partially captivating, and the plot, although a slow burn, was periodically thrilling. Here lies Serena’s fatal problem- with so many promising variables, it is not enough to be only periodically thrilling, and frequently exasperating. Serena is as inconsistent as they come.

MINI-REVIEW: The Double

The-Double

Last weekend, I sat down with my family and watched The Double. Often, our views on films comprise a spectrum of various opinions, ranging from “that was AMAZING” to “that was so BORING” (for those who are interested, the former is usually exclaimed by yours truly, the latter by my stony-faced older sister). In the case of The Double, my mother and sister had left the room by the time the end credits rolled, leaving my father, perplexed, and myself, completely absorbed.

So, given this wide range of reactions, I will give you two different viewpoints on The Double. For those who, like myself, loved it, The Double is a nerve-racking, claustrophobic and atmospheric drama with excellent (really excellent) cinematography and strong central performances. For those who, like the entirety of my family, absolutely hated it, The Double was an uninteresting, uneventful and unfunny waste of a very long 90 minutes. Much like the film’s central doppelgangers, The Double can leave its viewers in two minds.

What I loved most about The Double was how it looked. I don’t adhere to the view that a film that places style over substance is a bad film- not that The Double is lacking in substance. Evidence of The Double’s beauty can be found on FilmGrab. DoP Erik Wilson’s use of light is absolutely stunning. The Double is a film of beiges, yellows and blues, and it is through this use of light and colour that Wilson and Ayoade create a quiet and claustrophobic dystopia in which very bizarre things can happen.

Jesse Eisenberg has made a name for himself as Hollywood’s resident smart-arse through performances in The Social Network and Now You See Me. For Eisenberg, The Double is a gift. His two roles allow him to explore the familiar and break new ground. He can be snarky and scathing as James Simon, yet meek and cowardly as Simon James. Without his strong central performances, The Double would have lost much of is effectiveness. Mia Wasikowska is radiant as Hannah, whom Simon pines over from afar, one eye to a telescope, as his doppelganger James moves in on her unabashedly. James goes on to terrorize Simon, taking from him everything he’s too cowardly to reach for himself.

Wasikowska is on a terrific streak of late, working with every director from Jim Jarmusch to David Cronenberg. She is understated and nuanced in every role she undertakes, and The Double is no exception. Her performance has a subtlety to it which adds a balance to Eisenberg’s polarised near-charicatures.

In The Double, Ayoade has once again proven himself to be an accomplished director with a keen eye for visuals and a real talent for storytelling. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he does next.