An Analysis of the Graduate Soundtrack- Do you really think it works?

Don’t even LOOK at this Thread of you don’t want The Graduate spoiled for you!

I’ve seen The Graduate numerous times. Now, it’s got the famous soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel tunes for which I’ve really only ever heard praise. However, it’s never really struck me.

Yeah, I like the tunes, but is it really a good soundtrack? It always just seemed like a tie-in cross-promotion kind of thing to me. It seems like it was “Hey, here’s a popular artist- we want our movie to be popular, let’s paste this popular music onto our movie!”

Now, I’ll reiterate: This is how it seems to me as I watch the movie. I actually don’t know the history of it. Were Simon and Garfunkel popular before the movie? Had these songs been released before being attached to the movie?

It really doesn’t seem to me like any of the songs were written specifically for the movie (with the exception of * Mrs. Robinson*- and that only based on the title matching a major character in name). If Paul Simon was hired to write songs specifically for this movie it doesn’t seem like he really took it very seriously. It seems like he just wrote songs that he would have written anyway.

Now I’m not suggesting that the soundtrack is bad, I just don’t think it’s very good.

What do you guys think? Does it work as a soundtrack? Why do you like it or dislike it?
My analysis:

We open with a close-up of Ben and a voice over: “We are now beginning our descent into Los Angeles.”
Sounds of Silence
This works. It does actually help to introduce you to the character. It sets up his feelings of isolation and alienation. The music works well in particular while he is riding on the automated walkway in the airport- it makes him seem like a sleepwalker, which in many ways he is.

At Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s first meeting in the Hotel room. As Ben closes the door to begin the sexual romp, the screen goes dark and we get a reprisal of
Sounds of Silence,
during which there is a montage showing Ben going through a mundane daily routine then meeting in the hotel room for routine sex. We’re still doing pretty well. We’re reminded of how we were introduced to Ben as a lonely detached character- this is intensified as we see him lonely and detached in an activity that should be intimate.

The montage continues into
April Come She Will.
Now we’re starting to slip. The tone of the song no longer matches the tone of the story. This is too pretty a song to have here- yes the lyrics tell a sad story but the melody is too light and airy. And the lyrics don’t work either in that they tell a story of a love that grows then fails- but Ben and Mrs. Robinson never shared love to begin with. There’s a superficial match in that the lyrics recount a passage of time while the montage communicates a passage of time, but this connection is so superficial as to actually hurt it.

Elaine finds out about Ben and her Mother.
Elaine: “Get out!”
Mrs. Robinson: “Goodbye, Benjamin.”
Scarborough Fair
with a montage of a lonely Ben stalking the Robinson house. This is the first time Ben has been forced to face reality but it’s placed with a very dreamy song. Neither the lyrics nor the tune are a complete mismatch with the story and images, but they don’t match all that wonderfully either.

Ben determines to marry Elaine and as we watch him drive to Berkley we hear
Scarborough Fair
Again! We just fucking heard it! Seriously, less than two minutes have passed- maybe even less than a minute, just a few lines of dialog. Now we have to listen to the same song again. And again it’s too dreamy. He’s just determined to marry a girl who hates him- there’s should be more of a sense of urgency. And the link between the “Are you goin’ to” lyrics with an image of a character who’s “goin’ to” someplace is, again, too superficial a link to be effective.

Ben accompanies Elaine to the Zoo, where she meets her date and they leave Ben at the Monkey House.
Scarborough Fair
Again! Fucking Again! As Elaine and her date walk off the song starts with a shot of Ben standing alone at the Monkey House- in the background there is a sign that reads: DO NOT TEASE. That’s how I feel at this point- like I’m being teased. Scarborough Fair has been well worn out by now.

Elaine shows up at Ben’s room. They have a fight, Elaine leaves.
Scarborough Fair
Scarborough FUCKING Fair!
It’s just an instrumental this time, but still it’s pretty annoying.

Ben has worn down Elaine’s resistance slightly and he is trying to get her to agree to marry him.
Mrs. Robinson
Just an instrumental, with some whistling. Pretty good. The melody is bright and kinda happy, Ben is happy at this point. Works well enough.

Mr. Robinson shows up, confronts Ben, and announces that he is taking Elaine away and that Ben is not to see her again. Ben is on the road again back to L.A. to try to catch Elaine.
Mrs. Robinson
Again, and instrumental. This time mostly the acoustic guitar with that dug duga duga duga, duga dug dug strum. It makes for good chase music. It’s music for a man on a mission.

Ben get to L.A., confronts Mrs. Robinson who tells him that Elaine is not there. Back in the car for the drive to Berkley.
Mrs. Robinson
dug duga duga duga, duga dug dug, this time with vocals on the refrain. Again, this works as chase music and the lyrics on the refrain, immediately after the confromtation with Mrs. Robinson, add a bit of taunting and defiance directed at Mrs. Robinson.

Elaine’s fiancé’s fraternity brothers direct Ben to Santa Barbara. Back in the car and the chase resumes so we again are treated to
Mrs. Robinson
All this repetition of Mrs. Robinson works much better than the repetition of Scarborough Fair. In this case we never get the full song, it’s just short bursts of the dug duga duga duga, duga dug dug which actually move the action along quite nicely. Finally we get to the point where Ben runs out of gas and the dug duga duga duga, duga dug dug slows down as his car comes to a stop. This is the only point where it seems like Paul Simon actually paid attention to what he was scoring.

Ben disrupts the wedding. He and Elaine flee and hop onto the bus and take a seat in the back.
Sounds of Silence
The same song that opened the movie closes it. Pretty good in that we again are reminded about Ben’s disconnectedness at what could’ve been a conventional happy ending. The happy ending is made less certain by the music along with Mike Nichols’ choice to hold the final shot of Ben and Elaine, neither of whom seem secure or connected or certain.
In all, we’ve got four songs for the entire movie. “April Come She Will” is the only song that does not get repeated. The others, in a way, split the movie into three sections: There’s the “Sounds of Silence” section, the “Scarborough Fair” section, and the “Mrs. Robinson” section.

The coffee house folk music doesn’t accurately represent the world of the characters to me. We’re watching two wealthy conservative families from the San Fernando Valley. The sixties folk scene is so far removed from this setting, it’s almost the exact opposite of what it should be: “I’ve got one word for you- PLASTICS.”

So, there’s my analysis. What do you think?

I think the soundtrack works brilliantly. It’s the movie itself that doesn’t work. There has never been a more pathetic, dated, overrated film than “The Graduate.” Paul Simon’s music is the only thing that keeps it (almost) watchable.

Yes, the songs were already part of the Simon and Garfunkel canon.

I think the deal was, Paul Simon was planning to write an entire new cycle of songs for the movie, but either only managed to get “Mrs. Robinson” done or Mike Nichols told them not to worry about it, their current songs were popular, so he would use them. Nichols was obviously less worried about literal musical signposts throughout the film than with simply setting a mood.

Your point about the repetition of “SF” is well taken! Here, though, is where it’s used most effectively for me. There’s a sense of longing in the song that reflects where Ben is at that moment.

(I may have never minded/noticed how often the song is played in the film because it’s only like, one of my favorite tunes evah.)


I’ve only seen it once, so my memory may not be 100%, but I thought the soundtrack worked really well within the context of the film.

I’ve heard (although I’m sure if I’m wrong someone will correct me) that Simon & Garfunkel weren’t big before The Graduate, and had even broken up before the movie was released. It was the popularity of the music that made them huge and brought them back together.


I agree with Astoran–it’s a vastly over-rated movie. I never liked the whole concept of an athletic 23 year old successful grad of an Ivy League school behaving like a 15 yr old high school kid before his first date.

And the soundtrack isn’t particulary appropriate. But in those days, folk music was Pure Art, and anybody who dared to say otherwise was (like the Simon and Garfunkle song says) :“So uncultured, you say Dylan, and he thinks you’re talking 'bout Dylan Thomas, whoever he was”

Without the soundtrack, the movie wouldnt have been as popular. And with the soundtrack, nobody would dare criticize it. It had to be great Art–it’s got folk music .

S&G were never the typical hit single oriented pop group so prevalent in the 1960s.

Their producer put a rock backup on “The Sounds of Silence” at a time when they had sorta broken up, and Paul was working as a solo folkie in England. In Bryonesque fashion, he woke up to find himself famous when the rock song he hadn’t heard hit number one, on 1/1/66.

That brought the two older albums, Wednesday Morning 3AM and Sounds of Silence, onto the charts in 1966. The next album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, made them superstars when it hit top ten in 1967.

Paul was a director of the Monterey Festival in May, and S&G were considered a strong enough act to close the Friday night bill of what many consider to be the best festival ever.

Paul spent the rest of the year working on the Bookends album while simultaneously thinking up songs for Mike Nichols, and the record company dribbled out singles throughout 1967. They all went top 40, but weren’t huge hits. The three singles, plus a different version of “Mrs. Robinson” than the soundtrack, make up side 2 of Bookends (along with “Punky’s Dilemma,” written for The Graduate but rejected by Mike Nichols), with side one being a thematic suite (including “Overs,” also originally written for The Graduate).

The Graduate came out in spring of 1968. Simon’s music was a perfect fit to the tone of the movie and to the audience at which it was aimed. The Bookends album was released just as the single of “Mrs. Robinson” was hitting number one. It and the soundtrack album dueled at 1 and 2 on the charts, spending a combined 16 weeks at number one.

Would Bookends have been as big without The Graduate to boost it? Probably not. It was quiet music about aging in the midst of a very noisy year. It would still have found a place inside the huge audience that S&G already had, even so.

So, StGermain, I have to strongly diagree with what you heard.

I always felt the soundtrack was as big a part of the experience of watching The Graduate, as the dialogue. I never saw the movie as something profound, though. I heard Scarborough Fair before I ever saw The Graduate, and had no problem identifying with the guy in the song feeling separated from his love, and the pain he was feeling over this. It worked for me, when I later saw the film.

As far as the OP’s take on the repetition of Scarborough Fair, I get the feeling you don’t like the song in the first place. I can see it taking you out of the movie, I’d certainly have a hard time seeing how Cheeseburger In Paradise really helped a movie about cooking. I hate the song, and would find something too pat with using it in a movie, even about a wacky John Candy character opening a hamburger stand. As far as Ben needing to feel excited, rather than dreamy, I didn’t get that. He isn’t dealing or responding to situations in the way I would. I take him as being a rather passive, dreamy guy, so the song continued to work for me.

THANK YOU! Gawd. I’ve been waiting for someone to agree with me for years.


You wanna talk overused music? How about The Last Hank Williams Fest… I mean The Last Picture Show.

I don’t have time to write a lengthy reply, but I mostly agree with the OP. It can sometimes be nice when movies have a consistent soundtrack (same artist, or at least same genre throughout), and indeed it was nice in The Graduate…but if we’re going to be listening to the All Simon & Garfunkle Station, it would be nice to have more than four freaking songs in the whole movie! There’s a fine line between “consistent” and “repetitive”. The first time I saw the movie I remember thinking, “Okay, and now we need to turn the record over already!” Still, “Sounds of Silence” was very effective, and I consider it the real theme song of the movie.

Oh, and I must disagree with astorian and say that it’s Anne Bancroft that keeps the movie watchable. Once the Mrs. Robinson plot is abandoned for the Elaine plot, I usually wander out of the room to check my e-mail or something.

If I may quibble a fact in your otherwise excellent overview, I don’t believe the album Sounds of Silence had been recorded before Simon went to do the England thing. That was the album they released to capitalize on the new “folk rock” version of the song, recorded after he came back. The whole album is medium-to-lightweight pop rock, in glaring contrast to the hardcore folkie Wednesday Morning.

LOVE the song (outside of the movie, that is). I knew the music long before seeing the movie. Scarborough Fair had always been, and still is, one of my favorites. But it makes me want to kick the screen when I’m watching the movie.

Sorry if I gave that impression, which as you say is not true.

Sounds of Silence is mostly an electrified reworking of The Paul Simon Songbook, the folkie album Paul recorded while in England. (And has just recently finally had an official re-release.) It was recorded in December of 1965, while the single was rising on the charts, but before it hit number one. But it certainly was the success of the single that gave the older music a new life.

As for The Graduate. I saw it when it first came out, in my senior year in high school. We all thought it was the greatest movie ever. You have to try to imagine a time when the movie wasn’t lame and dated, a time when it seemed miles ahead of everything else in attitude and understanding. This was before the sexual revolution, before the pill, before the youth culture, before the cultural revolution - though they were all in the air, looming. There’s not the slightest indication in the movie that the Summer of Love was taking place almost outside its door, and that’s correct because that was only something to be read about in Life magazine, not anything that had even remotely entered our lives.

I recently read a comment that Mrs. Robinson (who doesn’t even have a first name) is the only adult character in the movie, the only person with whom one could have a conversation. That seems to me to get to the heart of the movie. She has no one to talk to, and it is killing her. She retreats into decadence with Benjamin, who is the perfect choice because he, as a representative of youth of the time, has not yet found a voice to be able to say anything - and that’s killing him. Think about how much of the movie is the soundtrack, played over long sections in which people suffer quietly. In the end, Ben and Elaine get on the bus - and stare in silence because they have nothing to say. If Simon hadn’t already written “The Sounds of Silence” he would have to have invented it for the movie. Silence, inarticulateness, the inability to give voice to the changes engulfing them, is the movie’s center.

Weren’t other movies saying the same thing at the time? In retrospect, yes. But again, you have to imagine a time when there was literally no way for an ordinary movie-goer to know that. Three networks, none of which showed recent movies, and especially not foreign or art movies. Except for a half-dozen of the largest cities (and largest campuses) there were no movie houses that showed these films either. No art houses. No classic movie theaters. No cable. No video. A few obsessive hobbyists might trade 16 mm prints, but most people were totally ignorant of any movies that they hadn’t seen first run because that was the only way to watch them.

In this world, The Graduate was revelatory.

Does it still hold up? I have no idea. I deliberately have never re-seen it because I don’t want those memories shattered.

Hmm. Maybe it had more impact for me because of my age. I’m 23 and while I haven’t boffed the older woman, I know the kind of aimlessly searching feeling. I really connected with Ben’s character both because I’ve been there and known several people like that.

Of course it holds up, it’s an effing classic. Anyone who thinks it’s “dated” must think the same of Citizen Kane or Casablanca. A funny, moving, insightful, well-acted, beautifully directed movie doesn’t have a shelf date!

I love the soundtrack also. Movies with songs on the soundtrack, songs that had something to do with the movie, were uncommon back then. I was in high school when Sounds of Silence came out, and we like all self-styled intellectuals loved it. It’s full of suicide (Richard Cory, from a real poet yet) lost love, (I am a Rock) and other assorted angst. The only upbeats song (Groovy Thing) has an apologetic liner note.

On another note, Mrs. Robinson restarted Joe DiMaggio’s career. “Where are you now, Joe DiMaggio” sounds absurd after he was all over TV in Mr. Coffee ads, but at the time it was a real question.

BTW, I always thought the little dig at Dylan was odd, considering both S&G and Dylan had folky
first albums that were not popular, and were mostly real folk songs, and second albums that were successful due to external factors - PP&M doing Blowing in the Wind for Dylan, and the unsung genius who made Sounds of Silence a rock song for S&G.

I must admit I like Dylan better. They both did Peggy O on their first albums, with Dylan’s version being far, far superior. I saw Dylan and Simon on their combined tour, and I was surprised at how much better Dylan was.

When The Graduate was released, the pill had already been on the market for seven years.

I, too (I’m 28), think that the movie is still relevant as well as immensely entertaining.

I used to have an MP3 of Dylan doing an incredibly sarcastic-sounding cover of The Boxer. It was just vitriolic-type sarcasm. Dylan probably thought S&G were a “timeslot hit”, so to speak, basically riding his coattails. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a bit of a rivalry.