One scene that rewards extended analysis is the “reveal” scene from Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. This scene can represent the rising action in the narrative of the film and it perfectly shows off the usage of the rack focus shot. The scene also illustrates the impact a quick and urgent scene followed by a slow and dramatic scene can have on a portion of a film, and what a rainy or wet setting and costume design can portray in a scene.
Up to this point in the film a recently graduated college student named Ben has been having an affair with his father’s work partner’s wife, Mrs. Robinson. This has been going on for several months, but when Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, comes home from college Ben’s parents push him to go on a date with her. Mrs. Robinson has already expressed what will happen if he follows through with a date with Elaine. Ben takes Elaine out anyway and develops strong feelings for her. On their date Ben explains how he is having an affair with an older woman, but that he is adamant in ending it. Elaine accepts this, and they plan another date. The reveal scene starts out with Ben arriving at the Robinson’s house and Mrs. Robinson intercepting him before he has a chance to go inside. It is raining very hard. Mrs. Robinson demands that Ben does not take out Elaine or else she will tell her about their affair. Ben rushes inside ahead of Mrs. Robinson so that he can be the one to break it to Elaine. Ben is soaking wet and has very quick and frantic actions. He barges into her room and closes the door halfway. Elaine is facing away from the doorway and Ben is facing the cracked the door. Ben asks if she remembers the older woman he was having an affair with. She responds that she does. In this time Mrs. Robinson appears in the doorway. Ben’s eyes look up towards Mrs. Robinson standing in the door. Elaine then turns her head and sees the also soaking wet Mrs. Robinson. Mrs. Robinson slowly walks away from the door and out of sight. Elaine slowly turns her head back to Ben as she realizes the older woman he had been with is her own mother. The scene is now using very slow and deeper movements.
For the mise-en-scene in the shot there is a lot to unpack. At the beginning of the scene all motions and words spoken are very urgent and quick. It shows Ben sprinting into the house and up to Elaine’s room. Every word Ben speaks is rushed as he tries to explain who the affair was with. As the scene continues it slows down dramatically. This especially occurs after Elaine’s realization. This can represent how Ben has lost his sense of urgency because she now knows who the affair was with. As far as the lighting goes in the scene, it is all shot in high-key lighting. The effect that this has is that it shows every emotion on the actor’s faces. With the bright lighting the audience can see the true terror and anxiousness on Ben’s face as Elaine finds out. The audience can also clearly see Elaine’s facial expressions change as she realizes it is her mother.
The most influential part of this scene is the use of the rack focus shot. The first rack focus shot is very quick and occurs as Mrs. Robinson appears in the doorway and Elaine’s head turns to see her mother behind her. This is a very fluid shot and coincides with Ben’s eyes as they look up in the prior shot. As Mrs. Robinson leaves the shot the camera lingers on the spot she previously occupied before it very slowly turns it focus back onto Elaine. The camera rolls back to Elaine as she slowly puts two and two together that the affair was with her mother. This shot again follows Ben’s eyes as he hesitantly looks back at Elaine knowing that she understands. The rack focus adds suspense to the shot and points you to where the director wants you to look. The setting is a very rainy day and the rain plays a huge part in Elaine’s realization. It helps connect Ben and Mrs. Robinson as Elaine sees them both drenched from the rain. It also adds to the somber mood at the scene’s end.
The Graduate possesses a reveal scene that utilizes mise-en-scene to help drive the plot and to create a bigger impact in the rising action of the film. Nichols perfectly executes the rack focus shot, a contrast of quick and slow movements, high-key lighting, and the use of a rainy or wet set and costumes.