Saturday 9 July 2022

Movie Review: The Swimmer (1968)

A metaphorical journey of self-discovery, The Swimmer explores the chasm between outward appearances and inward reality.

In suburban Connecticut, fit, tanned, and middle-aged Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) shows up in his bathing trunks at the backyard swimming pool of his wealthy friends. He is welcomed warmly with social chit-chat, along with some puzzlement. Ned then conceives a plan to swim through the pools of all his neighbours on his way back home.

At various stops he encounters Julie (Janet Landgard) the former babysitter of his children; young pre-teen boy Kevin; actress Shirley (Janice Rule), with whom he had an affair; and several other friends and neighbours. Ned's behaviour and memories are often erratic, and the reactions he receives at various stops become increasingly hostile as he nears home.

An adaptation of a John Cheever story, The Swimmer sidles up then delivers a devastating emotional blow. Directed by Frank Perry and written by his wife Eleanor, this is a surreptitious exposition of the lies lurking behind manicured lawns. The beautiful cinematography bursts with the vivid colours of affluent suburban dreams, the landscape dotted with luxurious homes spaced enough apart for beautiful people to expose plenty of skin but still hide behind stories of their choosing. 

The social commentary is unrelenting and unsparing. Starting with facades of health and beauty, Ned's confidence, optimism, and denial atrophies with each passing swimming pool towards the depth of desperation. Each interaction peels back a layer of dignity, the trip home revealing a core of immorality and selfishness residing at his soul. 

The narrative trajectory never points to itself, but is cleverly revealed in the gaps between just some of Ned's pronouncement - mostly about his wife and two daughters - and the reactions from his friends and neighbours. The something-is-not-quite-right disconnect between image and authenticity grows ever wider, ultimately consuming Ned.

Burt Lancaster delivers an authoritative performance, walking the fine line between clueless pride and fragility. Never wearing anything other than his swim trunks (and even ditching those for one scene), Lancaster allows his emperor-has-no-clothes gait and expression to mirror the process of Ned's emotional destruction. Each member of the large supporting cast gets just the one swimming pool, Janet Landgard as the ex-babysitter and Janice Rule as the ex-mistress wielding the most influence on Ned's journey. 

The Swimmer can try to glide past the truth of his own making, but this race home has only one loser.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.