“Ben. I just want to say one word to you. About your future. Just-one-word. Are you listening?... Plastics”. The graduate Benjamin Braddock is indeed quite uncertain about how to get ahead: but we can forgive him, he is the youngest adult male ever chosen to be the protagonist of an American comedy (other very young men had already conquered the dramatic space – as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause, or Bud Stamper in Splendor in the Grass). It’s 1967. Dustin Hoffman (in his Hollywood debut after Broadway and Strasberg, new Actors’ Studio generation) glides from the Los Angeles skies onto his family, while Paul Simon’s lyrics inform us that “silence like a cancer grows”. Things have changed, and so has the music. Four songs will echo Benjamin’s bewilderment and impulsive outbursts: a form of lyricism often repeated through the Seventies but already practiced elsewhere – see Bertolucci’s Prima della rivoluzione, a film which made a relevant impact on the ‘New American Cinema’.
Californian families, by the poolside. The oppressive Braddock family side by side with the twin Robinson family, from which emerges this forty-year-old, dark-haired lady in leopard skin – alcoholic, sexually competent and demanding – which Anne Bancroft plays as a character marked by unhappiness. Through the seduction routine of her stockings slipped off and on, Benjamin sees the world. His mute resistance is that of a floating object, but a storm brews within. Mike Nichols tears Hoffman’s face in an anxious crescendo of close-ups, while what takes place around him is often unfocused and hard to decipher. The effect is a constant indirect subjective: everything reaches us through the imperfect filter of his gaze. The gradual opening up of the space around the character reveals the progressive disintegration of his familial and social roots; his steps, as heavy as in a nightmare (he’s got to walk with flippers from the living room to the swimming pool), get faster as he moves from Los Angeles to Berkeley university to the church at Santa Barbara. By the end, Benjamin is sprinting, either on foot or in his fiery red Italian car, breaking out of his shell and dashing like a madman towards a romantic last minute rescue (which Woody Allen will pay homage to in the ending of Manhattan), towards his unfathomable happy end. He runs and, while brandishing inappropriate weapons, prepares himself to escape from other assaults by the authorities – as already happens in the streets and on the campuses. But that is a different story, which others will tell. For in the end, our Benjamin Braddock is only running away from a word: plastics.
Cast and Credits
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