TCM Classic Film Festival 2013: The Swimmer (1968)
The Swimmer as aptly introduced by indie filmmaker Alison Anders, is a perfect movie for our times, just as Mad Men is a series about the past, but prescient as part of our current collective consciousness. In fact, it’s Anders herself who draws the analogy between The Swimmer and Mad Men. Burt Lancaster could be Don Draper. I’d go as far as say if Matthew Weiner patterned the series finale on this film, it wouldn’t even bump.
A 1968 anomaly, the film is a perfect example of the stretching and growing that American Cinema was undergoing, attempting to stay relevant to the changing times but still appeal to the masses. While it does display some creaky and dated tropes of the time (a slow-mo montage of Lancaster and a young girl steeple chasing like horses, superimposed over shampoo style commercial close ups of the girl) the direction (shared by several men, not the least of which was Sidney Pollack) the acting and the script are pretty flawless. In fact, the juxtapositioning of different classes of people in Lancaster’s neighborhood still feels as fresh and bitingly satirical as “The Graduate’s” nouveau riche.
Lancaster is an extremely fit executive who chooses on this bright and beautiful morning to swim home by way of all the swimming pools of homes (and estates and public pools). We don’ t know who he is, and we don’t know where he came from. But as he sprints from property to property, and dives and strokes through the different pools, we learn more about him based on the reactions of the different people from his life whose path he crosses. At first, the wealthy families are overjoyed to see him, and the women all but jump out of their clothes to be with him. He is as carefree as a newborn child. But as the day progresses, we soon see he is not always so welcome, sometimes ordered off the property. As the clarity of his past comes into focus, we can see him age, and stumble and limp forward.
It’s pretty early on that we realize things are not as they seem (my all time favorite theme) and as the late, great Roger Ebert said, this is an “apt allegory.” Lancaster has laid waste to his life and loves, and his denial is becoming apparent even to him, all the way to the devastating conclusion.
If Mad Men’s Don Draper finally had his comeuppance, and was forced to face the relationships and people he had crossed, and destroyed through his life, could it be more poetically and satisfyingly portrayed? Ask me when Mad Men wraps up next year.
Gallery of Images from The Swimmer