Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Swimmer

There are movies I blog about that I don't care for at all, and tell people that they should watch and judge for themselves, especially when it's a movie that has fairly high ratings. One such movie is The Swimmer.

Burt Lancaster plays the titular swimmer, a man named Ned Merrill who shows up one day wearing just his swimming trunks at the home of the Fosburghs, some people who live in the same suburban Connecticut town as he does. How he got there or why he's in just his swimming trunks is not really explained. But the Fosburghs live on a hill that gives a good view of a lot of the rest of town, and Ned sees a whole bunch of swimming pools. This gives him the bizarre idea that he could "swim" home, going from one set of neighbors with a swimming pool to the next, swimming through each of the pools.

Now, you'd think this sort of idea is nuts, and yet it's just the sort of thing that you could present in a not-so-mainstream movie and have the characters think it's brilliant. Or have a bunch of angsty teens who think everything is deep and profound fall in love with the idea. In fact, Merrill does meet one such teen, Julie Hooper (Janet Landgard), who is with a couple of her friends at one of the houses with the swimming pools. Ned remembers her having babysit for his two daughters, but that was apparently some time ago. Indeed, one of the recurring themes of the movie is that everybody but Ned seems to realize that quite a bit of time has passed since the last time they saw each other, while Ned doesn't.

And because of that, there are a lot of people who don't like Ned's presence. One of those is Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), an actress with whom Ned apparently had an affair that ended badly. She remembers it ending badly but he doesn't, so she's none too pleased when Ned shows up. There's also a couple hosting a pool party who bought the Merrill's hot dog cart during a white elephant sale. Ned has no memory of this and is pissed; he wants his cart back. Good luck with that.

So does Ned make it home? And do we ever get to meet the wife and daughters Ned keeps talking about? Some explanation is implied by the end of the movie, but not an entire explanation. We do know that all those neighbors who recognized Merrill hadn't been around for a long time were right, but there's still no reason given for how Ned showed up here in the first place.

I suppose The Swimmer isn't supposed to make sense (or perhaps there's more exposition given in the John Cheever story, which I haven't read, on which the movie is basd), and that this is a good thing for some viewers who like a movie that's different and challenging, for me it didn't work at all. I find myself comparing it very badly to something like Two for the Road, which is spatially but not temporally linear. While that one is definitely challenging, it works because the characters are more realistic people and the explanation given for the plot hook of the couple having taken the same trip multiple times with the viewer seeing scenes from different iterations of the trip is a good one. Lancaster doesn't get much to work with as Ned Merrill, and way too much is left unexplained.

But, as I said, there are people who like The Swimmer, so as always, watch and judge for yourself.

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