Ahead of the Barbican's Step into the Dark season, the British actor and director tells us about the influence of Mike Nichols's The Graduate on his work
The Barbican’s current 'Step into the Dark' season explores the darker side of film, immersing audiences into the worlds of surrealism, dystopia, and mystery. The climax is Seven Deadly Sins, a series of events in which various authorities on the visual arts, including Mike Leigh, the Chapman Brothers and Vivienne Westwood, have been invited to screen their favourite sin-related film.
For sloth, director Richard Ayoade chose Mike Nichols’s 1967 classic dissection of the generation gap, The Graduate, a key influence on Ayoade’s directing debut Submarine, with its cocktail of humour and adolescent angst.
“I can’t think of another film that’s as funny and as sad, and where the characters are as well developed. You care so much for them, and I don’t know if before The Graduate, there would have been a film where you have a lead character who’s as awkward as Dustin Hoffman is in this, it comes off as a sort of mortification. He’s not a Robert Redford kind of star. It’s about the closest you could get to a J.D. Salinger film, if anything. He’s playing someone who is rejecting the plasticity of Los Angeles, by making no active decisions whatsoever – he’s lazy and unmotivated and pathologically passive. The film starts with a dream sequence of Benjamin Braddock graduated and giving a speech, and he just can’t think of anything to say. He drifts in the pool, he doesn’t really have an answer. He’s trying to shut out the world, with a kind of self-imposed paralysis and it just doesn’t work. Which is what’s so great about the ending: “Well, what are you going to do now?” It’s interesting just how theatrical the film is in a way, especially the famous scene with Mrs. Robinson. Mike Nicols has a great ear for language, for that kind of rhythm – there’s no need to shout. He has a good idea of when a scene’s done, and how long you can stretch it out.”
Text by Harry Robert Frederick Thorne & Richard Ayoade
Images from The Graduate (c) Embassy Pictures Corporation