Alas, for many of us, the time remaining in this semester marks our last weeks as university students. The final hurdle of major essays and exams will be a bittersweet experience for some, and perhaps it will venture towards the usual terrain of the exasperated dread for many. Later on this year, we are rewarded for passing our exams with a piece of paper that indicates our past few years of academic achievement. But what next? Graduating is terrifying, and the “aimless grad” is an aspect we can all identify with. While that honours option or post-graduate degree is looking strangely inviting at this time, maybe it would be best to grimly confront the daunting notion of the “real world” with a little wisdom from the movies.
Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012)
How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor writes, directs and stars in this film as Jesse, a jaded 35-year-old college admissions officer who visits his alma mater. The almost-romance storyline between Jesse and a bright, young drama student named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) takes the forefront of the film, but most strikingly and endearingly, Liberal Arts displays the struggles of romanticising the past. Sure, your university experience was a blast, but leaving university has made you a different person and the community you were once part of is no longer there. The addictive pull of nostalgia also horrifyingly applies to many twenty-somethings of today (I’m looking at you, Instagram user who tags #nostalgia on #ThrowbackThursday). Liberal Arts earnestly shows that reminiscing the past is common for all of us, but perhaps looking towards the future really isn’t that bad either. Also, from the title alone, Liberal Arts gives reference to great works of literature from Romantic poets to David Foster Wallace, which is a huge treat for English majors. However, the film is fairly problematic in its portrayal of women (it fails the Bechdel test, for one), but as a delightful take on university, books, love and life, Liberal Arts is still a pretty great movie for any grad.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013)
In a post-Girls world, the storyline of white, twenty-something girls who are scrambling to find stability in their life is becoming increasingly stale. But Frances Ha reassuringly shows that while modern life can be difficult, it can also be quite lovely and, oddly enough, fun. This black-and-white flick follows New Yorker Frances (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring dancer, who has trouble with money and maintaining friends. Frances is a likeable protagonist, and she is the kind of person that eats cereal for dinner and thinks it’s fine (we’ve all done that at some point). At one point, desperate for cash, Frances returns to her former college to help out with orientation and lives in her old dorm. It is a briefly poignant moment that questions if there is any real growth or change, for Frances or otherwise, from undergraduate to “adult”. Frances’s character plainly shows that how you encounter your problems as an adult is really quite similar to what you are doing now. Frances remains hopeful throughout, which could come off as naïve, but it certainly becomes the best way for her to confront her problems. The film also has a John Hughes moment: an unexpected musical number where Frances dances down the streets of New York to David Bowie’s Modern Love. Frances Ha carries a sense of optimism and charm that Girls struggles to have, and the film is enjoyable for any graduate who wants a peek into the future; the world of a twenty-something.
The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
As cliché as it seems, The Graduate is arguably the perfect movie for the modern graduate. This 60s classic consists of a timid, indecisive graduate facing the troubles of an ailing society. The themes of the film revolve around the social anxieties and stark generational differences of a pre- Vietnam America, but it can easily be applied to contemporary society. Dustin Hoffman plays Ben, a college graduate returning home in Los Angeles. He is unsure about the future, feels alienated, and appears to have no plans for his life. Ben is eventually exploited, manipulated, seduced (both literally and figuratively) and betrayed by a corrupted older generation, symbolised by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). The generation gap of the sixties is evidently encapsulated with Ben’s attempt to find a way to live his life, and his parents’ and Mrs. Robinson’s decadent Californian lifestyle. The Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, of course, is remarkable. The memorable closing scene, featuring ‘The Sound of Silence’, is deeply haunting, and it precisely expresses the younger generation’s journey towards an unpredictable, ambiguous future. The Graduate captures the uncertainty that comes with youth that is undeniably relevant to our world today, and to every modern graduate too.
Honourable mentions: An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009), The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985).