Music is an important part of every film. Even before there were ?talking pictures? the filmmakers used music as background noise to help tell the story. With or without words music can be so powerful that it increases the intensity of the film immensely. Can you imagine Fantasia without all of its classical scores? There are many theories about music in film today. While some believe it adds a lot to film others think that music should never be secondary to images. I believe that the two go hand in hand equally to bring the best of the audio and visual worlds together. Especially now that lyrics have come into play. The words of a song can bring so much more emotion to a scene than dialogue can in certain cases. I have found this amazingly true in The Graduate. Simon and Garfunkel take the concept of music in film to a new level by having the movie explained in their lyrics. To me, ?Sound of Silence? becomes the subconscious Ben Braddock. The words of the song delve into his inner self to try to describe his thought and feelings. This paper will interpret the lyrics of ?Sounds of Silence? in accordance with The Graduate. This is important because by explicating the lyrics the depth of the film becomes more dynamic.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
The song begins with the outer layer of Ben?s mind and steadily moves inward as he begins to understand himself better. In the beginning he comes home after graduating from college with an intense fear of the future because of the fact that he has no plans. To him, the future is darkness, as it always has been when he did not know what was to happen next. While at college, Ben involved himself in many activities to ignore the thoughts of the ever-looming obscurity. Although, now, the darkness is so absolute and thick it is even hard to hear. The only way he is able to see the possibilities of life is to be in his subconscious and hope that the visions are important enough to remain in his blurred mind. Sleep is his escape from the darkness of his mind. In a sense, Ben feels dead. For example, on his 21st birthday he just sits at the bottom of the pool wishing he could be anywhere but there with all of those people. Also, at the graduation party that his parents throw for them all he wants to do is escape to his room to be alone. Not to mention that every person there is an adult, friend of Ben?s parents, not a young one in the whole bunch. To him the sound of silence is the end, it means that his life is nothing. He feels as though he has no effect on others or life and they have no influence on him either. This is because he has not begun to found love and passionate feeling. Even during his affair with Mrs. Robinson, life is just the same old every day, all bland as ever.
Narrow streets of cobblestone
Beneath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
In the second verse things start to get a little more complicated. I think that the best visual description is the scene where Ben is floating in the pool. His father asks him what he is doing and Ben responds with, ?just drifting.? Drifting is exactly what he is doing, but not just in the pool, but through life as well. Weeks after graduation he is still doing absolutely nothing, not even thinking, just letting the darkness take over. When Ben and Mrs. Robinson have their first argument he tells her that he cares about her, and maybe he thinks he does, but he has no idea what feelings of caring really are till he falls for Elaine. Throughout his life he walks alone, not even noticing the others surrounding him. He just watches out for himself so he can make it to the next day. Life is no challenge, just a nuisance, till he gets a slap of life in the face. The ?flash of a neon light? symbolizes this, which occurred in the strip club when Elaine started to cry. Ben actually felt horrible and began to realize he had a part of himself that felt things that were so strong he could not control them anymore, it was in essence like being stabbed with life. Elaine set off something inside of Ben that was able to ?touch the sound of silence.? Suddenly, he was able to talk (almost) freely with her and the darkness begins to slowly fade away.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
The more time he spends with Elaine, the more he peels away his wall to her. He realizes that his life of silence does not have to live forever and maybe he is not dead inside after all. He becomes more naked, mentally and begins to see other people in their lives and how they too can live in silence. Ben realizes that Mrs. Robinson is one of those people. He sees her for what she really is, someone ?talking without speaking,? and ?hearing without listening.? This is why Ben told Elaine of the affair, not to mess everything up, but to fade the silence. Mrs. Robinson may have thought it would change up her life a bit to have an affair with Ben but it never mattered, not to her, just to Elaine. Elaine is real and she doesn?t know the sound of silence, which is what attracts Ben to her.
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
As the darkness disappears from Ben?s mind he realizes what a fool he has been living life without living. He?s sees this in others and feels them to be fools as well. He also knows, better than anyone, that the silence grows, takes over and can easily end life before it even begins. Now that Ben has broken out of the sound of silence he wants to fully take charge and never return. He will do anything to be with the one who cured him, Elaine. She refuses to listen though. She won?t listen to his words or crawl into his arms. Instead she goes off to get married to a jerk that will lead her down the road of silence. But Ben has changed by this point. He won?t let the emptiness scare him back to his old life, so yet again he goes on the chase to find his key to life.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they’d made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said
“The words of the prophets are
Written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
During Ben?s chase he deceives several people to get the information he needs to get to his treasure. To him they were all pawns trapped by silence, not even with a bit of knowledge of how to be released. Finally, he arrives, and though he is too late Elaine still runs away with him and gets on that bus. At this point they both realize how life is everywhere, you just have to pay attention as it goes by and even silence can bring happiness. They do not even say one word to each other, just speak with their minds. Do they end happily? Is the sound of silence going to interfere with their life together? I do not believe it is to be interpreted. To me, this song interprets the subconscious of Ben during the movie, not afterwards.
I think that the lyrics of ?Sounds of Silence? really added so much to the reality of the film. So many people are stuck to the sound of silence and may never find a way out. I am not saying that love is the only way out but learning to feel is the first step to hearing the music. Simon and Garfunkel have a magic way with their score for this film, without it the film could truly be interpreted differently and may not have been as effective. I am by no way saying that this is only way to explicate The Graduate but this is the way that I see it and it has changed my life. I look at more and more of the little things in my life each time I watch the film (it is one of my favorites). It is a clear expression of emotion and how without it, we are not healthy people.