“new comedy may be described as a comic Oedipus situation. Its main theme is the successful the successful effort of a young man to outwit an opponent and posses the girl of his choice”.
A better description for the base ideological plot of Mike Nichols’ now-iconic 1967 film The Graduate. At its base level, the film is a run of the mill romantic comedy, although it is sometimes (I feel incorrectly) identified as a romantic drama. It sees its main character Ben overcome a series of social hurdles in order to elope with his true love, Eliane. This again links to Frye’s ideas of new comedy as he states that the base plot of New Comedy “follows a wish fulfilment pattern”. however, upon closer inspection, it can be seen that The Graduate intimately subverts and toys with ideas of new comedy and the romantic comedy genre as a whole.
The oedipal situation is twisted and warped through the infamous Mrs Robinson. Mrs Robinson is Elaine’s mother who for a large part of the film is involved in an intimate sexual relationship with Ben due to her dissatisfaction with her current marriage. Not only does Mrs Robinson fit the more contemporary trope of the ex-lover, but she also presents the film with its pathos. Mr and Mrs Robinsons failing marriage can be seen as Ironic foreshadowing for Ben and Elaine as they elope together in a similar manner to which Mrs Robinson constitutes all of her marital failings.
Frye writes that a common trope of New Comedy is; “the essential comic resolution” represented by “an individual release which is also a social reconciliation.” which he says may come in the form of an embrace, similar to a death a the end of a tragedy. However, all this is undone in the final moments of the graduate. Ben a crashes Eliane’s wedding and after fending off a social group that is less than reconciled by his actions, he and Elaine elope together, fleeing into the unknown with nothing except each other. Which may sound like the perfect ending to a romcom. However, the camera holds on the two lovers, as it slowly pans in, and their elated smiles soon turn to distant gazes of vulnerable uncertainty, and all the tropes of the Romcom and New comedy are suddenly recontextualised by the viewer, calling into question the validity of the cliched love that audiences have come to expect.
The Argument of Comedy, Northop Frye, In English institute in Essays, PP. 58-73. Columbia, Newyork.
The Graduate, Mike Nicholas (1967)