The Swimmer

In 1968 “The Swimmer” was a movie starring Burt Lancaster  as a man who swam to his suburbia home from a party by swimming though all the swimming pools lined up one after the other in people’s backyards. This was all I had know about the movie last week before googling the movie and finding more.

A summary of the movie taken from the NY Times has this to say:

John Cheever’s “misery in suburbia” short stories, brief and to the point, have always proven excellent TV fodder. Director Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, adapted for the screen by Perry’s wife Eleanor, is a rare, and for the most part successful, attempt at offering a Cheever story in feature-length form. Dressed only in swimming trunks throughout the film, Burt Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man, embarked on a long and revelatory journey through suburban Connecticut. Lancaster slowly makes his way to his split-level home by travelling from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool. At each stop, Lancaster comes face to face with an incident in his past. Informing Kim Hunter that he once harbored a secret love for her, Lancaster is mildly upset by Hunter’s indifference. Elderly Cornelia Otis Skinner is incensed at Lancaster’s intrusion in her backyard and orders him to leave. At the next home, Lancaster tries to seduce the nubile Janet Landgard, who’d once baby-sat for his daughters, but she regards him as a silly old man. And so it goes: as each subsequent suburbanite peels off his self-protective veneer, Lancaster grows more and more disillusioned with what he thought was his ideal lifestyle. 

Excerpts from the the 1968 NY Times movie review written by Vincent Canby adds:

Neddy Merrill, an aging country club Lothario, decides one afternoon to swim home across the county. As he makes his way through one friend’s pool and then another, portaging across lawn, garden and highway, it becomes increasingly apparent that gung-ho Neddy is a failure, a man whose vision of life has always been slightly bent, as if refracted through water. Neddy is swimming through his past to the nameless horror of an unrefracted present….

It’s too bad that—because of factors over which he has no control—Lancaster is not better in the role. He does have the physique of the aging athlete who has kept his form, if not the youthful texture of his skin. However, try as he might; he simply can’t project Neddy Merrill’s vulnerability as a foolish, ridiculous WASP.

Why my fascination with a 40 year old movie I have never seen? Last week in Punta Cana in a very small way I emulated the physical aspect of the movie by swimming from near the lobby of the resort to the beach by swimming through the various pools. My trip had more to do with being able to say I did this than any concerns about the failure of my middle class suburban lifestyle. I would not mind, however, being referred to at least once as an aging Lothario or having the physique of an aging athlete.

I made my way top the furthest corner of the furthest pool and quietly slipped into the water. I began. I am not a swimmer by training but made it through the first pool with minimal stops to catch my breadth. After climbing out and diving into the second pool I was starting to breath heavily and my stops became more frequent. 

As I stood at the edge of the third and last pool I contemplated the gulf between the middle middle class and the upper middle class. This last pool was technically off limits to me because though part of the same resort I was illegally about to enter the Club section. I think the people in this section had a special lounge to go to,  additional amenities of various kinds, and certainly their private pools. (The only amenity I coveted was that they had beds lining the pool for lounging in the sun. These were tres cool.) The other thing about the people in this section is that they hardly moved. They used their expansive pool as a large wading area if they ever got out of their outdoor beds at all.

Anyways, nothing was going to stop me from completing my mission. Well, almost nothing except the resort employee who came over as I was 3/4 of the way through this pool to let me know that I was not welcome. I am guessing that the splashing noise made by my swimming disturbed the sensibilities of the Clubbies and they sent for security to remove the trespasser. The employee was actually quite nice and apologetic. I did not even look around to see the reactions of the suburbanites Clubbies. I was not going to give them the satisfaction. Let’s see them swim the resort end to end. Of course they wouldn’t. Then they would have to mix with the masses.

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