6 The Pools of The Swimmer (1968): Exurbia, Topography, Decay
The Swimmer ‘might well be called The Alumnus,’ one reviewer joked upon the film’s release in May 1968. ‘It says to an older group what The Graduate is saying to a younger.’1 As Burt Lancaster’s character dives into one luxurious swimming pool after another, he is implicated as something of a ‘Mr Robinson’ – a spokesperson for, and a casualty of, a compromised older generation. The Swimmer was directed by Frank Perry and was based on a short story by John Cheever, published in 1964. Its protagonist is the middle-aged Ned Merrill, who resides in wooded, suburban Connecticut.2 One day he decides to ‘swim the county’ on his way home, running cross-country, stopping to swim a length in each of his friends’ pools. As he heads back towards his wife and daughters, Ned is increasingly niggled by feelings of unease: his sense of time and place is disrupted, and friends behave strangely towards him, making allusions to a less-than-perfect family life. Disturbed and physically exhausted, Ned finally returns to discover his house empty and dilapidated, with his family evidently long since departed.
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