The movie The Graduate was a pioneer for the film industry in regards to its use of popular music as non-diegetic sound throughout the film. The Simon and Garfunkel sound track fit in very nicely to set the tone of the film and give the audience clues as to what the characters were feeling. Aside from the non-diegetic sound the diegetic sound was also used very effectively to express character emotions, in particular Ben’s emotions.
Ben’s disconnect from society as a whole could have been discovered in the scene in which his father is having him present his birthday present; the use of sound was so strong it would not be difficult to completely understand the scene even without the visuals. The scene comes on with Ben’s father announcing to his guest that his son will be now presenting the gift which he bought him. Ben is not visible in the scene, but we do hear him.
He is calling from inside his house to his father that he really wishes to have a word or so with his father before coming out to the presentation, but each time he asks his father just blows him off with a quick “yeah yeah” or “come on Ben. ” At one point he even grants him 10 seconds to speak but never comes around to listen to Ben. As soon as Ben comes into the scene the audio switches. With your eyes closed you would think Darth Vader may have just come on the scene as Ben’s heavy and exaggerated breathing overwhelms your ears.
If you continue to only listen to the scene the breathing will continue for around a minute then suddenly is interrupted by a splash. It is at that point where your ears will suggest to you that maybe Darth Vader did not just make a guest experience but in fact our character is in some sort of scuba gear. After the splash we then hear what sounds like repeated surfacing and then diving back under water. The breathing sound is replaced with bubbles and it is safe to assume that Ben is completely underwater at this point. With our eyes still closed, we can draw a few conclusions not only about the scene but perhaps about Ben as well.
We know that he wants to be heard, but is brushed to the side. We also can assume that he is locked in this scuba gear but is unable to make any verbal communication nor is he able to accept any verbal communication. The plunge into the water could have signified a parallel to his actual feelings. He is now completely disconnected from anyone around him and when he tries to resurface to get back to the world something forces him to go back under once again prohibiting his ability to speak for himself, much like how he was repeatedly disregarded and pushed away by his father earlier in the scene.
Finally when we open our eyes up we see that everything assumed from just the audio is pretty true. In fact we learn that it was his father who kept pushing him under the water and preventing him to resurface where the rest of the party was. In my other movie watching endeavors I have found that being underwater is very symbolic of a disconnection from society. One example in particular is found in the movie Old School in which Will Ferrell’s character is hit with a tranquilizer dart and ends up trying to get help from the people at the party he is at but inadvertently falls into a swimming pool.
Interestingly enough the song “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel begins to play. I found this interesting because The Graduate also uses the same song at other points to illustrate Ben’s inability to communicate with the outside world. I think that had the director chosen to use this song while Ben was underwater it would have been very appropriate as well. The very well known lyric of “hello darkness my old friend” is awesome at showing how a character in a particular scene really has lost all control of his/her influence in society as they are drowned out by everyone else and pushed into a state of darkness.
The very carefully selected use of sound in this film was very effective and, like I said earlier, especially in this scene. It was a scene that really stuck in my head after viewing the film and really had made an impression and I think it was due to the exaggerated snorkel breathing and lack of acknowledgment from Ben’s father regarding Ben’s concern about coming out to the party wearing the scuba gear. Next time I watch the film I would like to spend more time listening to the actual lyrics of the song and correlate them with the events happening at that time to see how carefully the director picked those unique segments of lyrics.