“When you talk about The Swimmer will you talk about yourself?” Let’s be honest–that is one weird looking poster. And The Swimmer is one weird, weird movie. And again, to be honest, you probably won’t walk out of the Trylon asking yourself: “Am I like Burt Lancaster’s Neddy Merrill?”
This is a very 60s, Mad Men type of a movie (though so much better than that show), where a buttoned-down man confronts his failures. The original short story, by John Cheever, is absolutely brilliant, and widely regarded as one of the greatest short stories in American literature. Its central metaphor is strange and compelling: one Sunday, one of those lazy midsummer Sundays where everyone’s recovering from a hangover, Ned Merrill, champion swimmer, decides that he’s going to “swim” across his suburb of Bullet Park, walking in only his trunks across back yards, diving into people’s pools, and then repeating the process until he returns home (he begins across town at a neighbor’s home.) He names the chain of pools the “Lucinda River” after his wife. And in the process, he discovers nasty secrets about himself and his clean-cut neighbors.
Time has aged this film a bit (though the story remains solid–it’s only ten pages, so you should read it before you check out the movie), but it’s still a fascinating examination into this culture. Burt Lancaster is brilliant, and had to overcome a tremendous fear of water (which even included swimming in pools.) Fortunately for us, we live in an era that’s more relaxed, and perhaps honest, than this time period. But let’s not forget that we had to go through this type of self-examination in order to get here. Guys like Neddy Merrill used to exist en masse back in the day (and no, I don’t mean guys who would swim across the suburbs.) So give The Swimmer its due–it was startling in its day and retains much of its power even now.
Plus, I just have to say, the damn thing is groovy.