The swimmer (dir. Frank Perry) is about a day in Ned Merrill’s life (superb: Burt Lancaster) who encounters old friends as he is on a heroic mission to “swim” home.
The movie starts off with dream like images of natural surroundings drowned in nostalgic sunlight until the sequence is harshly interrupted with Ned jumping into a turquoise pool, which is not his. He sort of creeped up from behind, coming out of the forrest in his speedos with a surprise jump into an old friend’s pool who is lounging next to it, curing his hangover. Ned then has a brilliant idea: why not pester all the other wealthy people I once used to know and jump in their pools as I’m on the way to my house? “I can swim home” he dreamily explains…..”Well don’t you see, I got it all figured out!” Never serious, all his words are from a different time and place he wishes to return to. His ambition to “swim home” alienates him from the others who seem to be level headed adults, who work for a living, whereas Ned seems to think if he can impress someone with his epic mission he can still be part of the game somehow.
As Ned encounters those pool owners, we find out that he is broke, has not seen those people in a long time and as an old lover puts it, he is nothing but a common cheating suburban stud. He is unemployed, uneducated, has debts, has lived off other peoples generosity and good will to help, has no fortune on his own, abandoned by his wife and daughters. This contrasts emphasised in attire as most people have a lot more clothes on than him and I interpreted it as a sign of his poverty…he is from start to finish in his speedos while the other men and most women appear in clothes. He has literally nothing left and gets no sympathy. He is a regular fraud who lived off his wife’s wealth and all he has left are his hazy memories and and his imagination in which he lives and keeps convincing himself that he is still rich, married and has two loving and well educated daughters. The exact opposite is the case. And Ned refuses to face it. A movie that streams like a river seamlessly from truth to dream, from dream to truth, it all blends into one.
Now why this weird mission of swimming home? Is he on a holy crusade, where he once lived the high life and is now on the path of crucifixion on his way back home, which doesn’t exist. Is he trying to wash his sins away, to clear out the past? Why is he facing all people he has screwed over in the past, pretending nothing ever happened? Did he really think they forgot? Was it a test, see if the old charm still works? Does he truly believe his own lies? And where the hell did he come from?? All those questions come up and as I watch him smooth talking and charming his way through those pools, the truth behind it all seems outrageously stark in contrast to it. He is a cold blooded man without conscience. We know nothing about his actual current situation except for what the other characters tell us. It is the sad story of a deluded seducer, who refuses to come to terms with reality. All that seems left is that he finds a new wealthy women to join him swimming…He is still a classic stud. Tanned with pool-blue eyes, good in shape, sporty, knows how to flirt and treat a lady…he has already had a few of them thrown at him…are you….I mean…are you married?
And does this not somehow remind you of Donald Trump? In the age of picture perfect social media, The Swimmer is a relevant social study and in a way, timeless.