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Analysis of Mike Nichols’s Film The Graduate as an Example of New Hollywood

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In the late 1960s and early 70s, American cinemas experience a new generation of young directors and fresh unknowns actors, whose created ‘new’ side of Hollywood. During that time, a different approach to creating films formed, and big studios realized that they need to change tactics and show some interest in the younger generation, which become the main cinema-ticket buyers in the late 1960s. The Hollywood studios started producing youth-oriented films, inspired by European cinemas. During that time, we can see as well changes in censorship laws in the film industry. This times was known as ‘New Hollywood’ and become period of one of the most famous films in the history of America. In the era of New Hollywood, directors took a different approached in creating films. However, the New Hollywood term cannot be explained in a clear one answer. The easiest way to understand this movement is a closer look on movies created during that time, like Mike Nichols’s The Graduate (1967). To understand why everyone mentions this film while discussing New Hollywood, one needs to analyse it and then compare to Old Hollywood. 

In the light of that, The Graduate changed the film industry in many aspects, such as the use of popular music in the film. With this in mind, the soundtrack in The Graduate was unusual in Hollywood during that time. Together with the picture, it created a new way of the narrative of the film. Songs ware well played and lyrics provided us with information about characters state of mind. Campers to Old Hollywood, where the music was just a background, this was unusual. ‘The Sound of Silence’ is one of the main themes in the movie. We can hear it in a few scenes during the film. First, at the beginning of the movie, where Benjamin is on his way back home and then at the end, when Benjamin and Elaine run away from her wedding with a smile. At the same scene realization of confusion come back to them and smile disappear with the song played at the background again. The song is giving us more information about a state of mind of characters: confusion and emptiness in a big world of adult people. It is amazing how it is linked to the main character who’s actually does not change much during the whole movie. The same song is appearing as well during a first sex scene with Mrs Robinson. The song plays during the amazing montage and then being replaced with ‘April Come she will’. During this song, we can see a montage of scenes between hotel and Benjamin room. The second song is finishing with words ‘August, die she must’, which is a metaphor of Benjamin changing thoughts about a relationship with a married woman. The way in which the songs ware fitted in The Graduate created a new trend in Hollywood, where the soundtrack was equally important together with the picture. In my opinion is one of the significant aspects that are different between two eras of Hollywood. 

Another very important song is ‘Mrs Robinson’, like the title, say it reflects Mrs Robinson. Moreover, it is creating the theme of the movie ‘the old generation vs. the new generation’. The conflict between younger and older generation is linked to the social context of New Hollywood. In short, social context is the trend in social and demographics of the United States in a post-war era. The generation gap is one of the most important parts of that trend. The generation gap in The Graduate is one of critical parts and nobody shared it in this way before. It is giving a new view to narration but as well, it is very important social movements during that time in America. As Harris wrote, The Graduate was the first true blockbuster of the sexiest to exploit the fracture the “generation gap” in the endlessly repeated term of the moment between those kids and their parents’. Before the 1960s, young people did not have much to say and ware following whatever their parents suggested. However, with historical and cultural changes in the USA, like the Vietnam War, race riot and the counter culture, young people wanted to have more to say. Time changed and young people ware more educated and wanted to be more independent compared to their parents. Before The Graduate they ware not any movie, or at least was not that highlighted, which draws attention towards 1960s culture of youthful confusion. During most of the film we can see, that everyone is saying to Benjamin what to do with his future and nobody to ask him what he really wants. Because of that, he felt alienated from society, like most of the young people during that time. By highlighting generation gap, The Graduate becomes an icon on New Hollywood. Although, it would not be possible if Hollywood still had old industrial context. 

Industrial context is a change in a condition of production, in this case, an era of ‘studio system’. Like Geoff King said in his book, The term conjures up images of the giant studio system of production: enormous “dream factories” in which hordes of contracted employees laboured to create the movies of a period often celebrated as “golden age” of Hollywood.’ As he explained further, it was strictly controlled by the studio system, and directors did not have much to say about films. Even the actors were always the same with the same style of character. Everything started changing when Supreme Court changes how “Big 5” should work. Because of that legal action, directors got more to say with choosing actors and controlling final look of a film. Mike Nichol cleverly used this opportunity and hired unknown, not good looking, actor for the main character. By this, he admitted that in America, not everyone is perfect beauty and that New Hollywood should start portraying a typical American person. Stanley Kauffmann realized that, ‘Hoffman’s face in itself is a proof of change in American films; it is hard to imagine him in leading roles a decade ago’, which is examples that Old Hollywood made space for new changes. Another new change, introduced to New Hollywood, was the use of symbolism. The Graduate is full of symbolism for that time. One of the symbolic examples is the word “Plastic” which was mention by Mr Robinson. This exactly what young people thought that time, that their parents’ life is fake – plastic. 

Another symbolism is water, to be more precise a swimming pool. We can see that the main character is often in the swimming pool in his parents’ house. He is always a bit distant from the rest of the world when he spends time over there. When he is under the water in scuba diver costume, which his parents made him dress, we can only hear his breathing. We can see his shouting and excited parents but we cannot hear them. It gave a felling as they ware on the other planet, notably creating an image of youthful alienation, as King realised.

 Another key point of the same metaphor is a scene where Benjamin is drifting on his raft. His parents appear with sun flare behind them, which is another example of the gap between him and the adult world. Amazing work during editing helped Nichols to fit all of these metaphors into a coherent story. Editing in the film is amazing. Even if the story is hard to follow, Nichols helped us to be on right track by clever use of editing skills. 

Montages in The Graduate are exceptional, and by coordinating it with music, he created another way of narration. Match cuts, in montage, created time laps with attention to scenes connected smoothly between different places, like his doors from his bedroom become an entrance to the hotel room. Use of close-ups ,by zooming camera, showed us that Benjamin was feeling alienated even in the crowd of people. Particularly use of widescreen and a sun-flare, which was behind his parents, Mr and Mrs Robinson, is definitely new during that time. Editing of the film look like something unusual during that time however, The Graduate is like a collision of classic Hollywood with European art cinema. Nichols used unusual artistic editing to match confused characters of the story. Although this might be true, most of the techniques came from the classical style of editing. Thanks to keeping it, Nichols created a beautiful continuity, which helped to follow the story. Comparing for example to Mildred Price, one can see many similarities. Both of the movies have continuity of editing and have few ellipses. Both of them are about the family situation but with focus on the opposite generation. 

In conclusion, one must agree with Linda Ruth Williams. She wrote that to understand The Graduate and why it is New Hollywood, we need to analyse various aspects, which is done in this essay. When looking at The Graduate one can see that it drifted away from Classic Hollywood and definitely deserve to be in the New Hollywood era. At the same time, we cannot forget about influence from Old Hollywood. As King realized, ‘The different version of New Hollywood have seen changes and innovations, as a consequence of a range of specific influences. But the classical style has not been abandoned’. This essay highlighted the differences between Old and New Hollywood to get a clear answer. However it is impossible to classify it to only one. New Hollywood is just a name for the changes in America and Nichols uses that gap to create an art of that era. 


  • Harris, Mark. 2008. Scenes from a Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood, Edinburgh: Canongate 
  • Kauffmann, Stanley. 2014. “How Mike Nichols and ‘The Graduate’ Changed American Movies Forever”. The New Republic (accessed 11 January 2019),
  • King, Geoff. 2005 [2002]. New Hollywood Cinema an Introduction. London and New York: Publishers 
  • Kramer, Peter. 2005. The New Hollywood From Bonnie And Clyde To Star Wars. London and New York: Wallflower 
  • Larsen, Peter. 2005. Film Music. London: Reaktion Books Ltd 
  • Williams, Linda Ruth and Hammond, Michael. 2006. Contemporary American Cinema. New York. 

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Analysis Of Mike Nichols’s Film The Graduate As An Example Of New Hollywood. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from
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