It is still difficult for me, despite all this, to wrap my head around Ben in any meaningful way. My immediate problem, I suppose, is that I don't much like him. What's worse is that, despite the apparent similarity of our situations, I can't even even sympathize with him. Almost nothing he does makes sense to me. An exception is when he's speaking to Elaine on their first date: “It's like I've been playing some kind of game,” he says, “but the rules don't make any sense to me. They're being made up by all the wrong people—no, I mean no one makes them up, they seem to have made themselves up.”
After the incessant awkwardness and passivity that have thus far defined him, Ben finally gives us a detailed take on his worldview, which until now has been limited to “I'm a little worried about my future” repeated ad nauseam. But what's he so worried about? We see through his behavior that his post-college malaise runs deep, but the only evidence we're given for his anomie is a brand-new car, and long days sipping poolside beers that slowly, lazily turn into nights spent with Mrs. Robinson at an upscale hotel somewhere in downtown L.A. This is an upper-middle class male with a college education who, after having an affair with his parents' friend, decides to abscond with her daughter—what feelings he actually evokes are mostly negative.
Having an unlikeable protagonist is fine if our sympathy and understanding are pointed elsewhere. The problem, then, is that I can't figure out where, or who, that might be. Mrs. Robinson is the only character I find myself caring about at all. Outwardly flawed, we see what's not to like about her before coming to understand her as the most complex and interesting character in the film. Elaine, on the other hand, is practically an afterthought: Ben goes from actively trying to alienate her to miraculously falling in love with her for reasons that are either implicit or nonexistent. Is she simply the next accomplishment he can add to his name? Their relationship ends up being the focus of the film, but I can't for the life of me figure out why I'm supposed to root for the two of them when I find myself thinking that the film's lost souls—Ben and Mrs. Robinson—may be a better pair.