In the sixties, a movie came out that painted a welcome and lasting picture of how a young man could court a woman. It was The Graduate. In it, Dustin Hoffman dates a girl (played by Katherine Ross) and then asks her to marry him. She says no, but he doesn't hear it. He waits outside her classes at school and asks again, and then again. Eventually she writes a letter saying she's thought it over carefully and decided not to marry him. In fact, she is leaving town and marrying another man. That would seem a pretty clear message -- but not in the movies.
Hoffman uses stalking techniques to find her. He pretends to be a friend of the groom, then a family member, then a priest. Ultimately, he finds the church and breaks into it just seconds after Katherine Ross is pronounced the wife of another man. He then beats up the bride's father, hits some other people, and wields a large wooden cross against the wedding guests who try to help the family.
And what happens? He gets the girl. She runs off with Dustin Hoffman, leaving her family and new husband behind. Also left behind is the notion that a woman should be heard, that no means no, and the notion that a woman has a right to decide who will be in her life.
My generation saw in The Graduate that there is one romantic strategy to use above all others: persistence.. This same strategy is at the core of every stalking case. Men pursuing unlikely or inappropriate relationships with women and getting them is a common theme promoted in our culture. Just recall Flashdance, Tootsie, The Heartbreak Kid, Blame It on Rio, Honeymoon in Vegas, Indecent Proposal.
This Hollywood formula could be called Boy Wants Girl, Girl Doesn't Want Boy, Boy Harasses Girl, Boy Gets Girl. Many movies teach that if you just stay with it, even if you offend her, even if she says she wants nothing to do with you, even if you've treated her like trash (and sometimes because you've treated her like trash), you'll get the girl. Even if she's in another relationship, even if you look like Dustin Hoffman, you'll eventually get Katherine Ross or Jessica Lange.
I agree, Ben's behavior is more than simply over-the-top. His parents start to realize this as well, such as the scene when he says he is going to propose to Elaine when she doesn't even like him. That's why I thought the film was being tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing and not condoning his actions. You can create a protagonist without aligning with this views. Ben starts out as a relatable character and then spirals out of control by the end. It's entertaining but frightening at the same time. He domineers over Elaine much in the same way Mrs. Robinson tried to control him.
You got it, coolcatgal. This film is satirical. Ben’s behavior is not condoned. A major theme is people controlling (or trying to control) other people. It seems a lot of viewers do not understand this film.
Hey, wait a minute. Mrs. Robinson is the predator here. She coerces Ben into sleeping with her. No, she couldn't hold him down and rape him, but she did what a sexy woman in her forties could do to a young man of 21. She flirted with him, teased him, challenged his manhood, and blackmailed him.
Mrs. Robinson knew Ben didn't want to have an affair with her. He thought it was wrong. However, it's easy to entice a 21-year-old who is confused about what he wants from life into sex. Once Mrs. Robinson ensnares Ben, she does what sexual predators do. She controls him. Again, she can't beat him up, but she can threaten to expose the affair and ruin Ben's life. She can threaten to charge Ben with rape or burglary and get him in trouble with the law. Of course Mrs. Robinson doesn't want Ben to date her daughter, even though Mr. Robinson and the Braddocks all think it's a fine idea. Mrs. Robinson is jealous and possessive.
Ben's behavior is certainly creepy, but consider the circumstances. Ben feels trapped. He feels betrayed. He feels angry. This combination isn't going to bring out the best in anybody, especially somebody who was confused to start with. Ben's pursuit of Elaine is a way he can break free of Mrs. Robinson. At the same time he can defy Mrs. Robinson and exact revenge. So, in modern parlance, he "stalked" Elaine.
In the end, it seems like Ben and Elaine are not so much in love, but in cahoots against their parents who push them around as though Ben and Elaine are still children. As sure as Ben didn't want the affair with Mrs. Robinson, Elaine didn't want to marry that dork. So Ben and Elaine break free. That's why we love the ending.
It's a movie. It's not really important to analyze what would have happened in real life. You can ask whether Elaine should have called the cops on Ben. You can predict bad ends for the couple after the credits roll. However, such questions miss the point of why The Graduate is a movie we love after nearly 50 years.