The Ending of The Graduate and the Open Silence

Classic Movie Blog: The-Graduate-Ending-Open-Silence

For no particular reason, I recently spent some time surfing through online notes on Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, and focused with interest on studies of the play’s “open silences.” The discussion I was breezing through concerned the climactic moments of the play, where the character of Isabella (a novice nun who’s just been through a lot of hell) receives a proposal of marriage from the Duke.

The silence that follows from her, so it is often said, can speak volumes—but what, exactly, the unspoken words contained within those volumes are forms one of the more problematic and fascinating challenges for anyone dramatizing the play. There are differing interpretations of the moment that could be realized. “Closed” meanings to be suggested. Multitudes contained within those sounds of silence.

That last phrase easily brings movie lovers to consider The Graduate—still one of the greatest films ever made, and still one of movie history’s greatest examples of an “open silence” on the screen. While there is certainly something happening on the soundtrack—a restatement of the film’s primary musical theme in the form of Simon and Garfunkel’s now-classic song—the music serves as true background to the real drama of the final shot: the evolving expressions on Ben’s and Elaine’s faces as they contemplate their hasty elopement…and their future together.

They say nothing. From within ourselves, we draw out everything.