As far as film adaptations of books go, The Graduate is something of an unlikely candidate. Generally, books get turned into movies because they were best sellers or were otherwise popular with the general public. The first printing of The Graduate only sold a couple of thousand copies and when one of those copies ended up in the hands of Mike Nichols, he’d never heard of it before. It was sent to him by producer Lawrence Turman and at the time, Mike Nichols hadn’t heard of him, either. But Turman had seen Nichols’s production of Barefoot of the Park and thought he had the right sensibility to direct a movie based on The Graduate. At the time, Nichols hadn’t directed a movie before and while he didn’t think the story was very original, he still wanted to turn it into a movie. Getting The Graduate to the screen was a long process, but once it was finally released, this story from a fairly obscure book suddenly became a cultural phenomenon.
Book & Movie Differences
For the most part, the movie stays pretty close to the original book. Of the most notable differences, there’s a section early on in the book where, after Mrs. Robinson initially propositions him, Benjamin decides to leave town for a bit and ends up traveling further north in the state, where he helps fight a wildfire. After he comes back home, he begins his affair with Mrs. Robinson.
There are several smaller events which happen in the book that don’t occur in the movie, which add some interesting details. Mrs. Robinson seems to be an enigma even to people who know her well. In one scene, Benjamin has a conversation with his father, who says that for as long as he’s known the Robinsons, he’s never been able to fully figure out Mrs. Robinson or trust her. When Benjamin comes to pick Elaine up for their first date, she apologizes for her mother’s strange mood, noting that it was like she had been in a trance that day. In the movie, it’s very clear that Mrs. Robinson is stuck in a loveless marriage, but the book mentions they’re estranged to the point of living on separate sides of the house.
As the story goes on, more differences start coming up, particularly around the point Benjamin decides to go up to find Elaine at school. The book shows him doing things like hemming and hawing over how to approach her. He does things like make a restaurant reservation with the intention of taking Elaine out, but doesn’t follow through. He later ends up at the front desk of her dorm, but stops short of having her called down. At one point, Mrs. Robinson does contact him while he’s in Berkeley. There’s a scene where Benjamin searches a campus cafeteria looking for Elaine and another where Benjamin’s father comes up to see him. After Elaine leaves school to get married, the movie makes references to Elaine expecting a baby, but there isn’t any mention of that in the book. Benjamin also doesn’t have to make that famous dash to find the church where Elaine and Carl are getting married — he manages to find Carl’s apartment and Carl had conveniently left a note on the door for his roommate letting him know exactly where the church is.
Is the Book Worth Reading?
On the whole, I liked the book. However, if I were to choose between the book and the movie, I’d say the movie is my favorite version of the story.
In addition to the fact that the book version of The Graduate wasn’t a commercial success, the style of writing makes it something of an odd choice for a film adaptation. It’s not exactly the most evocative book I’ve ever read. In books like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Now, Voyager, their writers did a great job of creating atmosphere and exploring the inner workings of the characters. The Graduate, on the other hand, is very sparse in those types of details. Instead, it’s largely focused on dialogue. However, I think this style of writing works in this case since it plays into the vibe of someone who is just going through the motions and not finding much meaning in life.
It also helps that the dialogue in the book is excellent. As you read it, it’s so easy to mentally hear those lines in the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, and William Daniels. At points, I could practically hear the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack in my mind as I read. Keeping most of those lines from the book was a very good call. The movie take everything that’s good about the book, but introduces some other classic moments, such as the “plastics” line, which wasn’t in the book.
If you’re a big fan of The Graduate, the book is worth checking out, if only for those smaller but interesting differences that come up throughout the book. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.
This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. For more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.