Features and Columns · Movies

Contrast and a Needle Drop: Dissecting the Iconic Ending of ‘The Graduate’

If there’s one thing that’ll give your life purpose, it’s disrupting a wedding, right? Right?!
The Graduate Ending Bus
Embassy Pictures
By  · Published on July 28th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on why the iconic ending of  Mike Nichols’ The Graduate is a masterclass in directing.


Hello darkness my old friend … I’d like to talk about the ending of Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate again.

No, seriously. Sticking the landing is no small feat. And Nichols makes it look so easy! The Graduate follows promising scholar turned listless twenty-something Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who returns from his undergrad with no clear sense of purpose or plan for the future. Despite parental and societal pressure to figure his life out, Benjamin is content, instead, to spend his days languishing poolside. If you’re going to drift through life, might as well drift through the water, right? In an impressively chaotic move, Benjamin begins a misguided love affair with a much older woman (Anne Bancroft), falling madly in love with her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), in the process.

In the film’s closing moments, Benjamin defies his bewildering stasis to save Elaine from a rushed marriage. Filled with an exhilarating sense of purpose, Benjamin takes action (for once!) and dramatically whisks the runaway bride onto the nearest bus. Giggling and tingling with the electric thrill of their subversive act, the pair take a seat in the back of the vehicle. Slowly, steadily, the crushing reality hits them: “now what?”

The video essay below attempts to parse what, exactly, makes the ending of The Graduate so iconic. Looking at everything from the script to the performances to the lens choice, the video offers a concrete lexicon as to why the film’s ending hits so dang hard.

Watch “The Graduate Ending Explained — A Masterclass in Directing a Movie”:

Who made this?

This video about the final scene in The Graduate was created by StudioBinder, a production management software creator that also happens to produce wildly informative video essays. They tend to focus on the mechanics of filmmaking itself, from staging to pitches and directorial techniques. You can check out their YouTube account here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).