The Graduate and The Breakfast Club are two films, although created almost twenty years apart, reveal the same underlying messages. One way to relay these messages is through the themes of the stories. Major themes in The Graduate include loneliness, isolation, and entrapment, while major themes in The Breakfast Club include acceptance, community, and isolation. The two films deal with, in different ways, the journey from childhood to adulthood, which make the films more alike than different.
In The Graduate, the theme of entrapment is evident in one of the first scenes of the film. Ben gives Mrs. Robinson a ride home after a party for his homecoming from college. Mrs. Robinson first asks Ben to walk her into her home, because she is afraid of going into a dark house alone. When Ben escorts her into the house, Mrs. Robinson then asks him to stay until her husband gets home. He is offered a drink, thinking that Mrs. Robinson is trying to seduce him. She then asks him if he would like to see her daughter’s portrait that hangs in her daughter’s bedroom. Ben follows Mrs. Robinson up to the room, feeling more and more uncomfortable when Mrs. Robinson undresses in front of him.
Ben was trapped in the situation because he did not want to be rude and refuse to give her a ride home. In the following events leading up to Mrs. Robinson undressing, Mrs. Robinson did not take no for an answer, she kept insisting. Ben tried to refuse to walk her into her house and he tried to refuse the drink she gave him. As a nervous youth, Ben was too polite just to walk out of Mrs. Robinson’s house when he began to get the impression that she was trying to seduce him. Instead, he tried to talk her into allowing him to leave.
The themes of isolation and loneliness are evident throughout the film. The themes first presents themselves when Ben has an affair with Mrs. Robinson. A lengthy montage showed Ben alone most of the time, with glimpses of Mrs. Robinson when they were together at night. When Ben is not with Mrs. Robinson or her daughter, Elaine, Ben kept to himself, either alone in the pool at his parents’ home, in his bedroom when he lived with his parents, or at his small studio apartment at Berkley when he decided to follow Elaine to win her back. Even in the first scene of the film, Ben could not wait to get away from the party and be alone in his bedroom. Ben liked to be alone, but the viewer could see that toward the end of the film, the isolation that Ben liked so much began to bother him, and all he wanted to do was be with Elaine.
In The Breakfast Club, the themes of acceptance, isolation, and community are prevalent only during certain events of the film. For example, the viewer does not see the characters’ acceptance of one another until the midpoint of the film. At first, the theme of isolation hits hard; a group of five teenagers are in a nine hour detention at their high school’s library. They are from different social circles and do not necessarily know one another. They are each isolated from each other, and as a group they are isolated in the library.
As the story progresses, however, the theme of isolation fades as the characters begin to get to know one another. The themes of acceptance and community come into play when they begin to realize that their individual problems are the same for each of them. They all have problems with peer pressure and their parents. This common ground is what unites them. For example, toward the end of the film the characters are all sitting around, talking about their special talents and why they ended up in detention. Andrew, “the jock”, explains that he felt pressured by his father to be cool, and as a result, he humiliated a classmate. Claire, “the princess”, explains that Brian, “the brain”, had no idea what it was like to always have to agree with friends. Brian then explained to her that he did know, he also felt peer pressure. John, “the criminal”, identified with Andrew about pressure from parents. John painted a picture of Christmas in his household where his father gave him a carton of cigarettes and told him to start smoking. Although each character’s problems were different in detail, the general issues remained the same for everyone, and were issues that every teenage could relate to. After this scene, the characters accepted one another. They became friends.
Both The Graduate and The Breakfast Club could be considered “coming-of-age” stories. In The Graduate, Ben was trying to cope with becoming an adult and was catapulted into an adult world. In The Breakfast Club, the five teenagers realized that the world did not revolve around each of them individually, that their problems were the same as everyone else’s. The characters from each film learned a little bit more about themselves and about the world around them.
The themes of these two seemingly different films is what draws them together. Both are iconic, and relay a deeper meaning to an unsuspecting audience. The Graduate and The Breakfast Club are not only comedies, they are dramas about growing up and seeing the world for what it really is.
-The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. A&M Films. 1985.
-The Graduate. Dir. Mike Nichols. Embassy Pictures Corporation. 1967.