Seems I have been on a quest, circling the science fiction and fantasy whirlpool in a distant, yet interesting manner. On the periphery, far away from the madding bustle, I’ve been reminded of some quirky works of film and literature that don’t fit into any category. They are moving, deep, wonderful, and, at times, disturbing experiences.
In 1968, Burt Lancaster starred in a film, The Swimmer, directed by Frank Perry from a screenplay by Eleanor Perry adapted from a 1964 short story by John Cheever that appeared in The New Yorker. How’s that for SF? Neddy Merrill, who has been away for a time, appears in a bathing suit at a summer cocktail party in an upper-class suburb of New York City. As he schmoozes with his former friends who are surprised and happy to see him, he talks about his wife and kids, then looks across the well-maintained community landscape, dotted with homes and lawns and swimming pools. He realizes he can swim home, which is miles away, by stroking across the line of his neighbor’s backyard pools that form what he calls the Lucinda River, in honor of his wife. Ned jumps into the pool, energetically swims from one end to the other, and leaves his friends behind. He navigates the River for the rest of the film. I will reveal no more.
It is quite an experience to take the journey with Ned. Each step reveals part of the mystery of Ned that grows but is never addressed directly. It is the kind of quest story you find in fantasy stories. In a certain sense, the film reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone. There is a cameo performance by Joan Rivers and an appearance by John Garfield’s son. Sydney Pollack (uncredited) was brought in to direct some of the scenes. You can stream “The Swimmer” as an Amazon rental. It is also available on Blu-ray and standard disc. Or come out to my house and we can have a glass of wine and watch. There once was a single swimming pool in the neighborhood so that we will be landlocked. Unless, of course, we empty a line of vino bottles up to Frankstown Road.