For me, if there is any film that can be summed up in one song, it’s The Graduate. Pretty much everyone in the English speaking language knows the song, “Mrs. Robinson”. I personally thought it would be on the top 25 most recognizable theme songs, but that is just my opinion. (The theme was certainly important enough to make it into the scene from The Holiday…which I have included for those who do not know what I am talking about).
I was not able to find the exact scene where the song plays with the lyrics, but I have included a video that shows clips from the film!
Here I have also included the scene from The Holiday (because it's hysterical...and also further proves that The Graduate is awesome) :)
I only did the link because the embedding was not working :(
Now the main event...
Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” is not only the theme song to the film, but has become known in everyday American slang; people know what the term “Mrs. Robinson” refers to even if they have not seen the film (for those of you who have not seen this film, stop reading this blog right now, and go watch it…Netflix streaming! It is the greatest movie ever made).
First, I will share some background on the relationship of the song and the movie (mainly because it is a pretty cool story). First off, the film features two versions of the song, but neither is the critically acclaimed version from Simon & Garfunkel’s album, Bookends. According to an article written by Variety’s Peter Bart, “director Joe Nichols was obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel during the shooting of the film. Larry Turman, [the film’s producer], made a deal with Simon [of the famed folk duo] to write three songs for the film. By the time the editing process was done, Simon had only written one” (Bart 1). Bart goes on to explain that when Nichols met with Simon at the end of the editing process, Simon had only completed one song, but offered to play Nichols a few notes from another song he was working on that was NOT intended for the film. The song was about times past; it was entitled “Mrs. Roosevelt.” Nichols insisted that it now be about Mrs. Robinson…and the rest is history!
Because the song is by Simon and Garfunkel, it has a lot of appeal as far as ethos goes. The film was released in 1967, when Simon and Garfunkel were at their prime. The song “Mrs. Robinson” had not been released yet, but the single, “The Sound of Silence” had been released. A lot of fans of Simon and Garfunkel would be drawn to this film because they love the music of the folk rock duo. Simon and Garfunkel’s album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme had come out in 1966 (the year right before The Graduate was released), and it did very, very well. Sidenote, I couldn’t even write that sentence without singing “Scarborough Fair” in my head! Almost the entire soundtrack is Simon and Garfunkel, so naturally fans will be in the theater for this film.
The chorus of the song is the only piece that actually is heard in the film. Paul Simon actually changed the lyrics after it appeared in the film to what we know we know they are today. The first time the song is heard, is in the last fifteen minutes of the film when Benjamin asks Elaine (spoiler alert!! Elaine is Mrs. Robinson’s daughter) to marry him. That time, as well as two more times, the song plays with no lyrics, it is just a whistling version and an instrumental version of the music for the chorus. The last time the song is played, it is played with the lyrics. At this moment, it is played when Mrs. Robinson calls the police on Benjamin. I think it is very important that this is the only time the song is played with lyrics. The lyrics are the main aspect that gives the song an emotional meaning within the story. In Louis Gianetti’s book, Understanding Movies, he says “when merged with lyrics, music acquires a more concrete content because words, of course, have specific references,” (Gianetti 213). This statement is very true, and “Mrs. Robinson” goes right along with this statement. The filmmakers were able to make use the song to give a more concrete definition of the character of Mrs. Robinson because the song was written for the film, so the lyrics could be tweaked to convey a certain emotion about her. While the pace and instrumentals of the song match the easygoing personality of Benjamin Braddock, they are not necessarily the emotional cue for the audience. In order to fully make the connection between the song and the character of Mrs. Robinson, I had to watch the film, listen to the full version of the song, and then watch the film again. This was best for me because the full lyrics for the song match what the filmmaker wants the audience to feel when thinking about Mrs. Robinson, but they aren’t all heard within the movie. The lyrics make a very convincing argument about the character of Mrs. Robinson. In Lunsford’s book, Everything’s An Argument, he states that “[striking] the right emotional note, [establishes] and important connection,” (Lunsford 51). I think this song does exactly that. If you take it as striking the right note figuratively, not literally, that is exactly what Paul Simon did with this song in bridging the emotion of the character and the plot of the story. In the film, we discover that she is an alcoholic, and in an unhappy marriage (this is why she seduces Benjamin). The song is almost what the audience would want to say to Mrs. Robinson if they could speak to her. Lyrics like “stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson,” and “we’d like to help you learn about yourself,” are things that someone trying to help her would say to her. She is basically throwing away her marriage and her family by having an affair with her best friend’s son, who is also dating her daughter, and resorting to drinking all the time. The lyrics of the song are, to me, what I feel for the character when I watch the film. I just want her to help herself. Also the lyric, “stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson,” is very appropriate for the time in the film when the song is first heard. Benjamin just found out that Mrs. Robinson told her family that he raped her, the lyric conveys the emotion that we want her to own up to what she did instead of making up some outlandish story. Although the film does not really mention religion, the song goes on to talk about how Jesus is watching Mrs. Robinson, and how he will take care of her, which appeals to the emotion of feeling sorry for her. The song bridges the gap between the emotion of being mad at her for what she did, and feeling sorry for what she has done to her own life. It talks about how she needs to own up to what she did because she will be forgiven, and how she needs to take care of herself. The song literally speaks of sympathetic eyes watching her, which is one of the main emotions the audience takes away when watching this film. Although the true meaning and connection the song makes to the character and to the story may not be picked up on in the first viewing (it is quite hard to watch the film, take in the dialogue and action, while also listening to the lyrics of songs playing), the song is very tailored to the story, and truly connects the emotion of the audience to the emotion of the character.
This song and this film deserve three tickets!! "Mrs. Robinson" is an iconic song that draws a great connection between the story and the character, as well as draws the viewer's emotions into the emotions of Mrs. Robinson.