PILOT: Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our descent into Los Angeles.
That just says it all. Returning home from college is a descent for Benjamin. He's going down, down, down into an environment that he can't relate to.
MR. BRADDOCK: The guests are all downstairs, Ben. They're all waiting to see you.
BENJAMIN: Look, Dad - could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
MR. BRADDOCK: These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born.
The graduation party is a nightmare scenario for Ben. He knows he'll be asked about his future and he has no answers. The guests aren't meaning to be intrusive; as Mr. Braddock says, they're family friends who want to congratulate him and show some interest in his plans. But this is just too much for him to bear at the moment. No one is really speaking his language. Hearing without listening, as Paul Simon writes.
MR. CARLSON: Hey, there's our award winning scholar.
MRS. CARLSON: We're all very proud of you, Ben.
BENJAMIN: Thank you, Mrs. Carlson.
One reason Ben wants to hide in his room is that people have a view of him based on all his college accomplishments. He is an award-winning scholar, as well as a track star and editor of the college newspaper. That's a lot to live up to, but that stuff is meaningless to Ben right now. So he feels distant from people who value those accomplishments.
LADY 1: Ben…we're all so proud of you.
LADY 2: Proud, proud, proud, proud, proud.
LADY 3: What are you going to do now?
BENJAMIN: I was going to go upstairs for a minute –
LADY 3: No, I meant with your future.
LADY 2: With your life.
BENJAMIN: Well, that's a little hard to say…
More of the same. All Ben can think of is escape at this point. He can't relate to these people who want him to think about the future. They're expecting great things from him and he feels like he can 't deliver.
[Shot of Ben at the bottom of the pool in his scuba suit.]
Nichols shoots this seem as an ultimate example of isolation. Benjamin can see his parents looking at him but can't hear him. All the party guests are up above. The camera pulls back to show him looking like the little scuba diver at the bottom of the fish tank in his room. The whole scenario is so mortifying and off-putting to him that he calls Mrs. Robinson to begin their affair.
BENJAMIN: Now, you say the driveway's on your side of the house. So I guess you don't sleep in the same room.
MRS. ROBINSON: We don't.
BENJAMIN: So you don't…I mean I don't like to seem like I'm prying but I guess you don't sleep together or anything.
MRS. ROBINSON: No, we don't.
BENJAMIN: Well how long has this been going on?
MRS. ROBINSON: About five years.
Benjamin's not the only one who's feeling isolated and alienated.
[Shot of Ben reflected in the hotel room mirror watching TV, while Mrs. Robinson gets dressed and leaves the room.]
Eventually even the affair gets stale and leaves him feeling alienated and checked out. It's because he's not finding any meaning or connection with Mrs. Robinson. He knows this is not who he is. He feels alone even in bed with her.
BENJAMIN: You're the first…you're the first thing for so long that I've liked. The first person I could stand to be with.
[Elaine reaches over and puts her hand on his.]
Finally, Benjamin breaks through his alienation because Elaine understands what he's been feeling about his lack of direction. This is such a powerful experience for him that he falls in love with her immediately and devotes the rest of the film to pursuing her.
An obvious fact is that Elaine's the first person in his age group he's had contact with since he returned home. He hasn't looked up old friends from the neighborhood or contacted his buddies from college. He only got in touch with Elaine because of constant hounding by his parents and Mr. Robinson. Was he afraid that his friends and classmates were successfully moving ahead with their plans and this would upset him? Was he putting on a persona in college and hanging with people he really had nothing in common with? Or did he have no friends in college at all?