I saw an interview with the guy who wrote the original story of The Graduate, and the story of Mrs. Robinson’s origins reminded me of some theories we’ve talked about here.
She was based on a friend of his parents – a woman he lusted after. He fantasized about her seducing him because he wanted to be seduced by her, and finally had to write the story just to get it out of his system. By the time he’s done with the fantasy, his character doesn’t want her; she wants him. And she has him, practically against his will.
In short, it’s a rape fantasy. Specifically, it’s the rape fantasy where you imagine there’s something darkly evil about the person you desire, but you get to have that person anyway because that person takes you by force. As a daydream or the “plot”, such as it were, of a romance novel, this can be fun stuff. But when you squeeze it into a movie making a social statement, you can end up sending some pretty odd meta-messages you probably don’t even mean to send. It’s that damned Eve seducing poor, pure Adam with her apple again. It’s not his fault. Those women use sex to manipulate men, you know. And men can’t be blamed because they’re just slaves to their hormones, poor things.
Now, for those of you just tuning into see what those damn feminists are saying about misogyny in The Graduate, hello there! This is a site that critiques films on several levels, so not every film we mention is misogynistic. I have no reason to think the guy who wrote The Graduate hated women and this was his way of punishing them on screen. But I do think when only the fantasies of men are allowed on screen for the most part, you’re going to have an imbalance. And when the next generation of writers bases their writing more on the writing that came before them than on their own observations, portrayals are going to become more and more caricatured over time.
And I also can’t ignore that while this guy may have just been incorporating his favorite fantasy into a story about his very real adjustments to a changing culture, the folks who brought us Adam and Eve were deadly serious about what they perceived as the woman’s role as the conduit of all sinful behavior. And they are not alone.