"The Swimmer" is a one of a kind movie, adapted from a John Cheever
The Film opens with the sound of footsteps moving through the woods accompanied by a low eerie music. Occasionally animals and scenes of nature both in daylight and at night come into the cameras focus. The camera moves along looking at trees, a lake and the wildlife clearly representing what someone is seeing as they walk along. Eventually, a man clad only in a pair of black swimming trunks emerges from the woods, skips up to the edge of a suburban swimming pool and dives in. Having swum a couple of lengths he is greeted at one end by the owner of the house holding out a drink and welcoming him to come and join his guests. The Swimmer is Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) and it soon becomes apparent that everyone at the house knows him and is happy to see him. He is charming and charismatic with the male guests and flirtatious with the females who obviously find him attractive. The other guests have not seen him for quite some time and when Ned is asked where he has been he evasively states "here and there." When further questioned if he has had a good summer he replies "sure, just great." The guests then begin to look puzzled when he gives answers to further questions that just don't seem to make any sense. They exchange confused looks and clearly know something that we don't. Ned, whilst looking out over the Connecticut valley begins to get an idea that he could swim in stages back to his house by using briefly the pools of several of his neighbours. he boldly announces that today he plans to "swim across the county !"
As Ned visits each house and swims in each pool something more is revealed about his life and how he has behaved towards others in the past. Some people are pleased to see him, others are contemptuous of him and a few downright hate the sight of him.
What becomes clear (SPOILER AHEAD) is that Ned has been away for a long time and re emerges into the life he once knew believing that it is about two years earlier than the present. He appears to have been a high flying Manhattan advertising executive who had the house, the car, the wife and the money but lost it all by living a life of pure selfishness. We are told that he married into the upper middle class and seems to have been given most of the success he enjoyed. At the various different pools he is revealed as a cheating husband, a bad father, a crook and a "fair weather friend". The result of his behaviour was that his wife either kicked him out or he was fired from his job or both.
It is possible that Ned's fall from grace brought about a nervous breakdown which has led to his memory loss and distorted view of reality. He may have even been hospitalised for the period that he is absent from the neighbourhood, but the absence is never explained. It is also unclear what became of his wife and daughters. They might simply have left him, but there are hints that they may actually be dead.
The final scene where Ned eventually arrives "home" and his disillusionment is brought crashing back to reality is a great piece of symbolic storytelling.
Most of "The Swimmer" was shot in 1966 and finally released in 1968. Maybe back then audiences weren't ready to question the themes that are raised. Central to the story is the falseness of the American dream and how if you're not "somebody" you're not only a nobody, but you're also not even welcome. The film "American Beauty" made in 1998 takes the same swipe at society and is a great film in its own right, but "The Swimmer" made thirty years earlier, is so much more effective at exposing the corrupt underbelly of the professional suburban existence.
Burt Lancaster played many memorable roles and was certainly in much more enjoyable movies, but I think he does his finest acting in "The Swimmer." He is perfect as the arrogant yet vulnerable and bemused Ned who cant work out whats going on. The movie does appear dated today and the musical score is very sixties, but any serious film fan should definitely see this at least once. It really is unforgettable.
Action / Drama
Action / Drama
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March 27, 2014 at 02:53 AM