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A lyrical, literary allegory about the stasis of suburban life in America, where people may run through fields and booze may flow at parties, but water itself is stagnant and unable to quench existential thirst. Shirtless, suntanned, and sinewy, at first glance this might seem a vanity project for Lancaster, the object of nigh constant housewife adulation, but that is precisely the tragic point. With poetic penetration, the film slowly reveals the shallowness and narcissism of bourgeois suburbia, where everybody throws pool parties but nobody swims, too ashamed of their aging bodies and so content to simply float.
The Swimmer from 1968 is a criminally under-seen film that Hollywood left behind.
Set in the final glory days of an affluent midcentury America most people never experienced, Frank Perry's scathing portrayal of upper-middle-class rot has aged to perfection and should be regarded as one of the finest films of the 1960's.
Yet its failure to achieve the notoriety of contemporary works like The Graduate- a spiritually similar, but wholly inferior movie from a year earlier-meant generations have been robbed of seeing John Cheever's sinister short story brought to life.
Masterfully using allegory in a way no other film has, Ned Merrill's (played with subtle creepiness by Burt Lancaster) quest to traverse his posh Connecticut neighborhood via its well-manicured pools not only takes the audience on a guided tour through an obviously troubled man's world, but reveals exactly how this tanned, smiling phony embraced people at his own convenient, superficial level, then casually abandoned them with little or no regard for what was left behind.
The script is fascinating because key elements of Merrill's life are left a mystery, and viewers are forced to interpret for themselves the meaning of each highly symbolic action and conversation. Noteworthy not only for being Joan Rivers' first credited acting role, but also master composer Marvin Hamlisch's first film score.
And The Swimmer's current critical classification of having a "cult following" is an obvious misread of the manner in which screenwriter Eleanor Perry and cinematographer David Quaid translated Cheever's work into the mainstream.
Because there is nothing obscure or transgressive about how this cautionary tale details our universal capacity for denial, and the withering toll it takes on those around us. And while it lacks the lightheartedly quotable "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?", or "Plastics" moments of The Graduate, The Swimmer digs miles deeper into the human psyche, eventually striking gold if you're willing to see through the darkness.
At times intoxicating and at other times uncomfortable, this unique movie is always captivating. Essential viewing for movie buffs.
Burt Lancaster is wonderful in this haunting and sadly beautiful gem.
good performance by Lancaster, in a dressing movie
Surreal, very good film
How can one review or explain this movie? It is nearly beyond criticism, it doesn't even seem like it should be classified as a film it's so out there.
It's an existential drama of a man that the audience understands more about as we see him interact with people that he runs into as he stops by each of their swimming pool's.
The film has plenty of intentional and possibly non-intentional offbeat humor, surrealistically strange social encounters, and unconventional camerawork. The script is brilliantly opaque throughout, and the music is so normal nice-60's A&M brass pop that it seems to comment on the abnormal events unfolding.
At the center of the film is Lancaster's career performance, he had been in a lot of film's before this one but you can see how much he poured into making this one perfect. Lancaster becomes the man in his middle age struggling with his thirst for independence in the 60's, the new spirit coming over him and his body and reality of life failing him. There's a lot that could be said on this film, and I'll just say it's one of the finest I've seen because it pulls the viewer into its own world and gives you a lot to think about before you head out.
This masterpiece doesn't offer up its secrets easily, if at all. To say its a film about a bloke swimming home is like saying Ulysses is a book about a bloke wandering around Dublin. Burt Lancaster, never the most subtle of actors, delivers a mesmeric performance of a man and an age being slowly written out of history. This is much more than just a film, it's an idyll of complexity and fascinating enigmas. Memory, the loss of memory, the loss of time, delusion, confusion and the painful need for purpose are all intricately encapsulated in one day; "what a day, have you ever seen such a glorious day?"
Hard to express without giving anything away. A bold choice by Burt Lancaster and a gripping character driven mystery. A film about true faces and the reluctance to see them. Great screenplay, by a lady no less.
(Updated rating from 4 to 5 because the film is living inside me. If only he swam the other way. But that was his tragedy. A must see film. Especially for writers.)
I can't stand every aspect of this. I hate the 1960's. I hate 1960's film stock and production values. I hate people. I hate pools. I hate this dialogue. The concept is okay I guess.