The Swimmer

Last night watched Burt Lancaster’s 1968 The Swimmer — Ned Merrill decides to “swim home” — visualizing a “necklace of azure blue swimming pools stretching across the county.” He jogs in a proto-Speedo through upper crust neighborhoods and forest land to the swimming pools of people he’s known or barely known through the decades of his life. He crashes their pool parties, trespasses with presumption into the backyards of their lives, as they become a mirror for the examination of his own life. As is slowly revealed, he is a boob, a loser of a man laboring under delusions of adequacy.

1968 must have been the year the “pull focus” technique was invented. Every other shot starts blurry then glides into focus, or vice versa. And every time he’s having a particularly insightful moment the camera zooms in on his perfect blue eyeballs, as refracted diamonds of light dance on the lens.

The conclusion is a “twist” that’s supposed to make you leave the theater feeling blown away, but today just seems absurdly, wonderfully ham-fisted.

Music: The Fugs :: Ah, Sunflower Weary of Time

3 Replies to “The Swimmer”

  1. Sounds like a short story of the same name by John Cheever. I’ve never seen the movie, but the I remember the story being pretty good (it’s been about a dozen years since I read it), told in a very engaging voice. A little reminiscent of Fitzgerald or *Babbitt* or *Of Human Bondage* or even Thurber.

    Isn’t it strange how watching old movies is like being thrust into a vacuum completely devoid of irony? Everything was so frickin’ earnest.

  2. John Cheevers’ The Swimmer is a classic that has stood the test of time. It is a haunting story of the destruction of a man’s life. A downfall that he refuses to accept. The surreal aspect of a man swimming from pool to pool is a very unique idea. The Swimmer is a classic both in film and in the novel.

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