Week 4: The Swimmer (due 6/27)

The Swimmer (Perry, 1968) | The Film Junkie

Hi Everyone,

Important updates:

1. I will be updating the OpenLab Gradebook and grading your Project 1 essays this week. I will post when grades are ready.

2. Because we took more time for Week 2 (which is fine),  I have reconfigured our Syllabus and  Weekly Schedule  and combined Project 2 with the Final Reflection.  What this means: we will finish the readings schedule for the class, but you’ll be getting more credit for your Class Participation (weekly OpenLab responses now 50% instead of 25%; if you answer completely, with your own ideas, you will receive full credit, or an A ).  In addition, Project 2/ Final Reflection will be one assignment due  on OpenLab the last day of class (7/1) instead of being two separate longer assignments.  I think this will work well– we will make the most of our remaining time by keeping up with the readings and critical responses but going a bit easier on the formal writing demands.

Week 4:

  • Read: John Cheever, “The Swimmer” (1964)
  • Watch:  Eleanor and Frank Perry, The Swimmer (1968) (available on Amazon/ other sites for purchase)
  • Cheever biographical info & retrospective
  • Cheever reading “The Swimmer” (December 1977)
  • After reading the story, watch the lecture video
  • Choose  two discussion questions to respond to—and please check out what classmates have already posted. You may wish to include a question for peers in your response, as well.

*** The goal here is to generate authentic discussion about our subject matter. If you find something confusing or curious, that’s cool! Throw it out to the class! Ask questions about the text, life, your classmates’ experiences.  ***

Keep up the strong work! We’re in the home stretch.

51 Comments

  1. kezia king

    Hey professor,
    I can’t seem to find the discussion questions. I’m not sure if it’s cause I’m in my phone cause my computer broke this semester so I’ve been working through my phone.

  2. Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

    Hi Kezia,
    No worries– they’re in my video lecture.

  3. Brian Chan

    I’m not sure if this is where I post for the week 4 post so please let me know if I posted in the wrong place. Thank you 🙂

    The story is about a man having a drink and swimming across pools on his way home. Along the way he meets people he knew and discovers “rumors” and other things said about him. He continues to swim and eventually catches up with his past. Two important themes of the story are social relationships and the quickness of time. In the film, we see that Neddy has many connections. However, after the first half it seems he has been through a lot of bad luck and is a social outcast. Those he had considered friends or thought were close turned out to become strangers. I feel this highlights that just because you know a lot of people, that doesn’t mean they’ll have your back when you need them. As for quickness of time, we see Neddy stopping by for drinks while swimming from pool to pool. This indicates he has a drinking problem and as he passes by people he knew, he hears about unfamiliar events happening. We don’t see this in the film but at the end we see those rumors were true and time has passed very quickly. Neddy has failed to keep up with his own life and in his own way, is lost in time.

    In comparison to this film, the film Charlie Chaplin The Immigrant (1917) has a depiction of the flowing of time. Just as how Neddy loses track of time, the Chaplin has gone through such a long way from home on a voyage that has somewhat slowed down time for him. You can see an example of this by him checking his clock/watch in one of the scenes throughout the film. However, there is a strong difference between these two films. Neddy has fun with his life and indulges in alcohol for enjoyment and his life goes by so fast that he doesn’t even know about his own life matters. The Chaplin on the other hand, goes through struggles and we see him checking his clock/watch multiple times. In short, both characters have a display of the perception of time but at opposite tendencies.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      This is the right place, Brian. THanks!

      Very interesting idea here about being lost in time… do you think he ever truly catches up with his past, or understands it? Cool comparison with Chaplin’s work and the extreme awareness of time.

      • Brian Chan

        I think while he now understands the past, he will never truly keep up with it. The concept of time is often complex and its hard to tell how capable someone is. Even though Neddy can’t reverse the damage, he can certainly minimize it by getting his life back on track.

  4. Nathiw Sanchez

    In the Film “The swimmer” the creator of the film has used the pools as memories. The director of the film has used the pools to represent the past of Neddy. In each pool, Neddy has met with his friends talking about his love life, and personal life. As well in the film, we can see how the creator of the film uses Neddy as a person who tries to complete a dream as well have neddy tries to achieve his goal the film have shown the different social classes that existed in the film but as well with the different social classes that each Neddy’s friend have. In the film, we can see how Neddy travel around the community talking to his friends and trying to achieve his goal of swimming around the county to finish in his house pool. However, at the end of the film, we can see how Neddy ended in his house without his family finding the truth of his daughters and the opinions that they have about him.

    On the other hand, in the story “The Swimmer” created by the author John Cheever, the author has to use Neddy as a symbol of someone giving his hundred percent to achieve his American dream. The author has used the pools and the route of Neddy as the fight and effort that many people gave to achieve their dream. The author has used the pools as the division of social classes and the memories of Neddy and the things that Neddy has done in the past. The author has used different examples to show the expectations of how a man should act in front of society, the roles of a man, and how man was level based on their masculinity.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Hi Nathiw,
      What is one of the differences between the story and the film’s adaptation of it, and what do you make of this?

      • Nathiw Sanchez

        Yes, there’s some difference between the film and the story, the story has given more details. For instance, at the end of the movie, Needy stayed at the door crying without watching inside of the house. On the other side, at the end of the story, the author detailed how neddy tried to open the garage door, and he stayed on the door trying to open it then looked at the windows and saw everything empty.

        • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

          Nice attention to detail, Nathiw. One of the most compelling shots in the film (I think) is the interior of the empty, decaying house–

  5. Farai Matangira

    I thoroughly enjoyed both the film and the story, as it took me on a journey of many emotions. Initially, I was confused and quite frankly, bored, as I was unable to understand the purpose or trajectory of the story. It is different from your typical story where you have the setup, some confrontation, followed by a climax, and then the happy ending. As the main character was moving from pool to pool, I kept on waiting for the confrontation or the moment that would dramatically shift the trajectory of the story. Was there going to be a murder in one of the pools? Will there be a supernatural invasion in one of these suburban homes? Is this a story on 1940s suburban life? These were some of the questions I kept on asking myself.

    It is only until the very end that everything is clarified. The story is about a businessman who seemed to be living the American dream in the suburbs with a happy family. At some point, either from a single event or gradual mishappenings, he lost everything. The story hints at alcoholism and bad financial choices that led to his demise.

    The story, however, is more than just about a failed businessman. It touches on themes such as the reality of the American Dream and the suburban lifestyle, infidelity, alcoholism, time, and perceptions of reality.

    I was particularly intrigued by its themes of the American Dream and suburbia. The American Dream has been sold with images and rhetoric of a materialistic white upper-middle-class family living in a double-story home with tennis courts, swimming pools, and non-stop cocktail parties, which was well highlighted by almost every character stating “I drank too much at night”.

    John Cheever does well to portray this perception through Ned and the swimming pools. However, similar to Ned, the reality of the American Dream is a misconstrued perception.
    The notion that people in suburbs have it all, as the American Dream suggests, is wrong. There was an emptiness shown by Ned and some of the characters in the story. Ned’s story also shows that it is very easy to lose everything you had. AT one moment he is the guy that everyone loves and wants to embrace, however, with time, he becomes the outcast. He becomes an unwelcome member of a social class that once respected him. What makes this sad is the fact that for the most part, Ned is oblivious to this and seems to only come to the realization when he eventually arrives at his old home and seemingly falls into an endless state of despair. (No happy ending after all)

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Farai,
      Your humorous response here re: your wait for the potential supernatural home invasion made me laugh out loud. You’re making a very powerful point here– so much of the story is developed through inference and interiority, rather than action itself. No small feat for Cheever. I also appreciate what you’re saying about the truth lying beneath the sale of the American dream and white picket fence, a theme that Ta-Nehisi Coates picks up in his book Between the World and Me.

  6. Alondra Vences

    The film, “The Swimmer”, we found out a lot about Ned at the end of the film. He is no longer the young man he once was. He’s lost a lot due to his alcoholism. His drinking problem has left him in debt with plenty of people he used to get along with. Unfortunately, he has lost his family as well. They’ve left him due to how much a person changes after alcoholism. You can tell by the way people treat him throughout the film, they no longer respect him due to certain actions. Also, at the very end, his house is completely empty which can symbolize how empty his life has gotten.
    A quote I found compelling in the actual story was when he started realizing his life was no longer the same. “It was probably the first time in his life that he had ever cried, certainly the first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered”(Cheever736). It takes a lot for an alcoholic to realize not only how one has changed but how it affects and changes his surroundings. Ned’s alcoholism has left him with nothing but a lonely and depressing life.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Alondra,
      You’re picking up on an important element of the story, the dependence on drink. There was certainly a different awareness of alcoholism prior to… I was going to say the 1980s, but really, the attention to substance abuse has come and gone for many centuries.

      You’re also highlighting a crucial point in the story– Ned’s crying. It strikes me that Cheever still includes the adjective “bewildered,” which suggests the mystery of Ned’s downfall has yet to be deciphered. Perhaps you have a more optimistic reading of this…

  7. Makai

    “The Swimmer” was a really physiological film because we the audience have to figure out what is going on with Ned and why is he trying to swim home. When you glance at his life he’s living the American Dream. He’s a high-class white man who lives in the suburbs with his wife and I believe two kids. We see how he swims in 10 different pools in order to get home. At first glance, I see how around pool 7 the neighbors were much more hostile because they know how Ned really is as a person. We skip to the end and his house is empty and rotten in a way. That when we get more background about Ned. He’s an alcoholic and as we know your memory can tamper if you drink too much. So while he thinks he’s a good person who lives a happy life he has demons that he doesn’t know about. Overall the film was good and in order to fully understand everything you definitely have to watch it more than once.

    Now in the book, there was a quote that stood out to me, “Was his memory failing, or had he so disciplined in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth”(Cheever 730-731). This quote tells me that Ned has been repressing the truth so much that he as been living in a lie and is comfortable with that instead of facing reality

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Makai,
      This is a terrific response– love the pool numbering here, and your statement, “Around pool 7…” really gets at Cheever’s protagonist’s seemingly offbeat, idiosyncratic pool tour idea that ultimately reveals a lot of darkness.

      Great quote to pull. Question for everyone (and this speaks to Cristina’s mention of Alzheimer’s/illness): IS his memory failing? Or is he merely repressing/suppressing the truth of his past? What do you think Ned Merrill knows and doesn’t know? And what do you, as the reader, think happened?

  8. Ashley James

    In John Cheever’s “The Swimmer”, the role of alcohol is Neddy’s dependent energy which can comes across as alcoholism. Before his voyage across the pools he was drinking, then as he went from pool to pool he had a drink at the houses that he was able to. Alcohol can be interpreted as his energy to help him achieve his goal of swimming home and what he is dependent on just to function regularly, like an alcoholic. In the story, when he showed up at the Biswanger’s house while a party was going on, he overheard Grace say “They went for broke overnight-nothing but income-and he showed up drunk one Sunday and asked us to loan him five thousand dollars”, Neddy’s drinking could’ve been the reason for all of his misfortunes in life. Even though, he is down on his luck and an alcoholic it sucks that his so called friends are turning their backs on him.

    The film’s adaptation departs from Cheever’s original story by creating a more in depth picture of the characters and circumstances of the story. It changes our point of view and emotions on either the story or character or both. An example is in the story, his old mistress’ pool, Shirley Adams, is one of the last pools he needs to get home. In the story their encounter is a brief one and she really didn’t entertain him. Where as in the film, we got to see how she wasn’t exactly thrilled to see him again and all of the emotions his presence evoked in her. We also got to see how much she really loved him and he much damage he caused. In the film, the affair came off as much more than in the story. When I read this part in the story, they mentioned how he took the affair as a light hearted one and she wept when they broke it off, but in the film, he came off as a jerk and there was way more emotions other than weeping that took place. We also got to see in the film how much of an outcast Ned became, in the story his presence wasn’t fully welcomed but there was some excitement to see him, where as in the film his presence was not very much welcomed and he ended up being the black sheep of the crew.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Ashley,
      Very strong attention to detail here. Cheever gives us that great list at the beginning of the story of all the suburban family names, including the Biswangers. The comment you cite here is one of the few concrete clues we have about the Merrills’ financial demise– bad investment or some sort of swindle seems to be suggested.

      Good point, too, about the scene with Shirley Abbott being extended in the film, and the context it offers the viewer. We also have the scene with the babysitter who is actually frightened by Ned’s advances.

  9. Max Rodriguez

    “The Swimmer” became easily the most fascinating film we’ve seen in this class for me purely due to its psychological and philosophical undertones. The film follows the life of Ned exploring his life and remembering memories as he fights with alcoholism throughout the film. Ned recalls memories with friends and family through each pool he enters that leads him home. As he enters each pool he continues to drink in between each swim which is the core of Ned’s problems. Alcoholism ended up destroying his life and the people around him and we find out how he changed as a person through all these memories and his home is just a run down mess that is an example of his mental state. The original story has similarities in tone but a lot of the film was made to further expand and emphasize the story. My favorite quote from the story which I found to be a good summary for the film; “was his memory failing, or had he so disciplined in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth”. Ned’s perception of his own truths has become misconstrued and damaged from constant drinking and that quote showed that his psyche was forcing him to forget what was the truth. Alcohol’s psychological effects include memory loss which is a theme throughout the entire story. Ned trying to rekindle memories and relationships but finally “coming home” was his sober moment. He now realizes where he lives and where he’s at and all the memories that got him home.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Max,
      Provocative reading here. I wonder about the role of alcoholism– does it lead to Ned’s downfall? Is it a coping mechanism he adopts as a result of his downfall?

      Excellent point about the empty, decaying home as a metaphor for Ned Merrill’s mind. Bleak, but true.

  10. kezia king

    Swimmer is a physiological almost metaphoric film that takes us on a wild mind journey. From the very opening scene how we see Ned in the perfect pretty garden. The camera work really gives us a sense of point of view especially since the story is told in third person. We never really knows what going on with Ned. But in a way we get to see the world through his eyes. A sugar coated world.Everything looks almost too perfect to be real we get a sense of richness and a vibe of coming from some sort of high class society. Getting to see this pretty place the director gives us a little Intell into this world. Entering different pools and seeing the different neighbors doing this as Ned swims all the way across the county practically to his way home seems almost unbelievable as the movie progresses. The scene where we get to see how instead of the youth with his looks he looks old and he’s graying the camera uses a wide shot to show this. The close up scenes of different details like the characters expressions really adds to it. Watching it unfolds seems almost as if your tripping out and it’s a beautiful sight to see. Time seems huge in this movie how we see day time and then dark almost like this is Neds entire lifetime. We get to really see this in the film as oppose to if it was just a story being told.

    In the story of the swimmer we get to really go into depth of the story more. Especially since a lot of the scenes in the film was not published like the book. In the short story by clever one quote the really stood out to me was “ Why was he determined to complete his journey even if it meant putting his life in danger? At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious? “ This quote is strong and kind of gives us a thought about what’s happening. More insightful. We see how he is a failure in a way. We get a more understanding of where he is now and how he can’t just take everything back.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Kezia,

      Yes! So much of the film is about aging and the loss of youth, the “horseplay” that some adults are supposed to have left behind them. Question for everyone: how do Cheever and Perry convey the passage of time through the setting and environment?

      I absolutely agree with you about the beauty of the film, despite its tragedy. Were there particular scenes you found aesthetically appealing?

      The use of color– the different shades of pool water, the bright summer green of the trees in the initial shots– is especially striking.

      • kezia king

        I found so many scenes aesthetically pleasing talk about how it had the same effect the classic the graduate had on me. In terms of scenes I would just have to say the ending scene which was strikingly beautiful and so symbolic. Like he was drowning, drowning in a pool of himself. Too far gone. No life in him. Super sad and just stuck with me so much. Another scene is when he meets the girl seeing how beautiful and youthful she was something he was missing out on

  11. Oliver Hadi

    ‘The Swimmer’ somewhat caught me by surprise based on the contrast it draws with ‘The Raisin in the Sun’ where the underlying message was racism and segregation. While in The Swimmer, the reader gets a view into the complete opposite spectrum of life through a white affluent rural neighborhood. The timeline is similar as well, basing it on the 1950s and 60s post-war era.

    ‘The Swimmer’ short story by John Cheever
    The whole passage is like an evolution of a confused middle-aged white man, Ned Merill. The story starts out quite mysteriously in the middle of the summer on a Sunday. Ned comes up with the idea of “swimming home” by taking a swim in all his neighbor’s pools that would metaphorically resemble a continuous river. Because of the mystery and the conversations with the neighbors, the reader’s initial idea might be that this is all about an adventure. Even Ned points out that he thinks of himself as an “explorer”. As Ned is moving from pool to pool, we get small bits of information about him and start questioning the intent behind his journey. The further he goes, the more hostile each situation gets, signaling that once he reaches home will be the most hostile of all. Even though there are many puzzle pieces from the very beginning, Ned’s troublesome mind and past were first emphasized during the visit to the Halloran’s pool.
    “Mrs. Halloran says, ‘We’ve been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes, Neddy.’
    ‘My misfortunes?’ Ned asked. ‘I don’t know what you mean.”
    The reading did a good job of not giving away too much and have the audience speculate what might have been the misfortune Teddy went through. My first perception was that his family might have got into an accident and died or got injured. As the reading went on, my perception changed multiple times, assuming that everyone is alive and healthy but his family has been broken to pieces.

    ‘The Swimmer’ movie by Frank Perry
    The movie adaption of the short story took the opportunity to fill the duration time and add several key scenes and characters that were not present in the reading. The start is similar to the reading, not giving away much of Ned, the main character, and suggests adventure and exploration for the remainder of the movie. However, it is clear from the beginning that the movie wanted to emphasize the sexuality of Ned thru the film. To credit the actor, Burt Lancaster, he creates the perfect act of a creepy and often untasteful character. And the creepiness comes from the fact that he lives in his own nostalgia, almost forgetting that he is married with kids while flirting with almost every single female character. This of course is also a good indicator of why his family broke apart, to begin with. Besides having Shirley Adams as his mistress in the reading as the main indicator, the film version included several additional female characters such as Julie Hooper for a short romance that leaves Ned ultimately disappointed. She tells him about the old times when she used to babysit Ned’s daughters while having a crush on him. Her rejection in the movie becomes a strong indicator that Ned is no longer the same desired person that she would admire or look up to. This trend; whether romantically or otherwise; will show on most of the conversations Ned has with his neighbors as he is visiting all their pools. All the neighbors seem to live a lavish lifestyle, bragging about their pools, belongings, and drinking habits. Because of his relationship with the neighbors, is clear that he used to be a part of this very same culture before his life fell into pieces. However, people no longer treat him the same, many of them; especially towards the end; distanced themselves from Ned since he no longer presented the perfect America with a good-paying job, a happy(from the outside) marriage and happy kids.
    From a camera perspective, the end scene that showed his old house as empty in a backward moving direction was way more powerful as if it was done walking forward. It creates a feeling of losing something and drifting further away from the view.

    The ultimate reflection on both the literary and film pieces, it is clear that Ned’s mind created a safe bubble with an alternate reality in his head to cope with the failures of his life. In today’s environment, the movie’s main message could be mental health awareness and could also provide training videos on sexual harassment prevention. (obviously for the “what not to do” part)

    A question for other students:
    When you were reading the short story, what was your first impression of Ned’s tragedy? As I mentioned already above, at first I thought his family died in an accident, based on severity of his illusion created to block out his recent memories.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Oliver,
      Astute response here about my intentions behind the juxtaposition of “Raisin” and “Swimmer”– they are close to contemporaneous texts, and depict dramatically different Americas.

      Excellent point about the closing shots of Ned and the abandoned house. Zooming in and zooming out, offering us Ned’s perspective of the empty home and the perspective from inside as well– very powerful and haunting.

      I hope others here will answer your terrific question! Thoughts, everyone?

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Post script: Important point also about mental health awareness, alcoholism, sexual harassment prevention… the film has it all, and you’re wise to point out that the lens on these issues in 2021 is quite different from the 1960s lens.

    • Farai Matangira

      My first thoughts about Ned’s home were that they were a dysfunctional family or not as close-knit as he said, and he was trying to hide it from his neighbors by constantly repeating that his family is home and happy. But it never crossed my mind at all throughout the story that they were not even part of his life anymore.

      • Yovanna

        To answer your question, my first impression of Ned’s tragedy is that he lost everything, and basically he was being delusional, his wife divorced him and that he was kinda living in the past. I also think his children just grew up and left.

  12. Cristina

    Throughout the beginning I was a little confused on what was going on. At first I thought Ned had Alzheimer, but towards the end it made more sense. The main character Ned was always living in the past. Throughout the story, Ned was swimming through his neighbor’s pool to get home. Each home he went to was a different “story” or “memory” he encountered. He chose to live in the past and hold on to the memories he most cherished. When he met the young boy, he told him that if you believe hard enough something is true, then it’s true for you. Ned’s reality was unbearable to him because he had lost his family to poor decisions he made economically and socially. In the film, they hint that he made bad economic decisions because he once lived in the wealthy neighborhood, but his house was abandoned. When he met the other individuals in the public pool, they were claiming and demanding him to pay back what he owes. There is also some social issues with his “friends” because they don’t seem to like him anymore. When he showed up uninvited to the pool party, his “friends” rejected him and demanded him to leave when Ned started panicking about the hotdog cart. Ned’s reaction to his problems/ life issues is similar to what many of us do. When people go through the worst times of their life many choose to escape from reality because they find it’s easier than to face it or confront it. Sooner or later, we eventually do have to come back to reality because that’s the only way to move forward.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Cristina,
      Funny comment here that there are some issues with his “friends.”

      I like your smart characterization here of each home and pool offering a different piece of the puzzle and memory. I think you are right that Cheever suggests the tragedy of Ned Merrill is multifaceted, concerning more than financial decisions. The family (whose haunting tennis game echoes at the end of the film), the neighbors, the friends– all have been hurt by this man in some way.

  13. Justin Pope

    ‘The Swimmer’ follows Ned Merrill, a man who wants to swim home using his neighbors’ pools across the county. Ned seems to have problems with his memory, maybe because he wants to suppress painful and uncomfortable facts. He also constantly wants to drink and might be an alcoholic. I think he drinks to help him forget the unfortunate things that have happened to him. Ned considers himself an explorer and is fully immersed in his journey to swim around the county, he names the stream of pools ‘Lucinda’ which is named after his wife. He believed that he made an incredible discovery and contribution to geography. During his journey, he encounters people at every house he visits, some are friendly, and some are not.
    In “The Swimmer” (1964), I believe one of the themes in the story is escapism. Ned has clearly not seen some of the people he is visiting in a very long time, yet he does not seem to know that. Ned is also genuinely buying into the idea that he is a legendary explorer. A quote that caught my attention is his thought after meeting Mrs. Graham and having her offer him a drink which was, “He saw then, like any explorer, that the hospitable customs and traditions of the natives would have to be handled with diplomacy if he was ever going to reach his destination.” (Page 3) The significance of this quote is that Ned is pretending he is in a different reality. He refers to his neighbors as “natives” as if he is a real explorer who is interacting with them for the first time. As he visits more people, it is discovered that Ned has gone through “misfortunes”. Mrs. Halloran reveals that Ned has sold the house, and something has happened regarding his children. Ned denies ever selling the house and believes that his children are at home. At the end of the movie, we find out that the house is dark and probably empty. Ned still thinks that maybe Lucinda and his daughters stayed at a neighbor for supper. He brushed off some signs of dilapidation thinking they could be fixed in the morning. Finally, when looking in the windows, he sees that no one is inside. At the end of the story, it is still unknown what happened to Ned’s family or what even happened to Ned himself. We do not know where he has been living or if he ever got his memories back. I believe this is about escapism because Ned does not want to accept whatever has happened, so he creates a separate reality where he is still with his family.
    In “The Swimmer” (1968), the movie helps visualize the characters and their interactions with Ned. We can also see the pools, and the way the water looks. One difference I noticed in the movie is that Ned seemed lonely, as if he wanted female companionship. He tries to force himself on two of the characters, Julie Ann Hooper, and Shirley Abbott. He ends up scaring both of them away due to his desperation. I think this is supposed to mean that he is not with his wife anymore, and maybe subconsciously he knows that, but he just pretends that they are still together.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Justin,
      Pretty brilliant response here. You are right that we never learn where Ned Merrill currently resides, and I think the movie does a great job of portraying this, as he comes from the woods.

      Escapism is absolutely a theme– drinking to forget, traversing backyard pools (and ultimately, one public pool) as a distraction from the truth of his existence. Great attention to the important quote about the explorers and conquerors– Cheever is using critical language about these forces fairly early (in 2021 we have a much broader understanding about the destruction these explorers wrought on the “native” population).

  14. Wilmer U. Chavez

    On the promotional poster of the swimmer (1968) we can read the following question. When you talk about “The Swimmer” will you talk about yourself? This attractive and catching question is asking to the reader watch the film and try to make comparisons between themselves and The Swimmer because they could be able to find more than one. Consequently, the main goal of this marketing campaign was to create in the reader the curiosity what is the movie is and how could be possible that have any similitude with them, in other words, the marketing was trying to create connection between the viewer and the movie, generating curiosity what is the movie about.
    What we really know about Ned Merrill at the beginning of the story is that he is a sociable with many wealthy friends and for this the most probably he also has money. Most women in the movie were like in love with him and he most of the time is flirting with them. Furthermore, he is an adventurous man that wants create his own route to home from the place that he is. Absolutely, it was chocking to me the moment when the girl that his babysitter and she confess him that she had a terrible crush on him and all the things that she did and when he tried to kiss her, she runs away extremely offended. I did not understand why this could happened after that she makes him think and even the viewer that she was still in love with him and probably that could happen between each other.

    When I started to notice some inconsistencies in the movie as the scene that I described before I started to think that probably in really what the pools really are were or different stages of his life because while he is passing for each pool, we are collecting information how was his life. Also, he can represent a person with Alzheimer that is recalling stage by stage of his life with still with certain blackouts. Or probably he was already death, and each pool was each of the deadly sins that he had to purge to get to the heaven or hell but went he gets home, and it is empty he is in wait for what place he will be sent. Other theory can be and how a person can escalate in different social groups and try to belong to each of them and at the end their social and professional part can create a big impact in their personal life creating emptiness and taking away their loved ones.

    Absolutely, the scene or pool that I most loved was the one of Kevin Gilmartin Jr. because he was a child that was needing some attention and love from his parents. The audience could appreciate that Ned felt connection with this child and when they went together to the pool, they found a dirty and empty pool and when I saw that I thought that also maybe each pool reflects the emotional or psychological aspect of the owner or owners. Then, when they imaginatively swung in the pool with no water, I thought that the meaning of this can be that it does not matter the problems that we could have in life we just have to try to overcome them in the best way that we can. Furthermore, at the end of this scene I thought that probably this child was Ned when he was a child.

  15. Yovanna

    In “The Swimmer” (1964) by John Cheever, Alcohol signifies an aspiration for just an enjoyable lifestyle (just for fun), but then it symbolizes how seeking pleasure quickly leads to disaster. Neddy often drinks at the pools he travels to. As Neddy’s swim progresses, then he keeps on becoming more wasted, how alcohol is portrayed changes dramatically, because now he needs a drink in order to stay energized, getting a drink is almost as important to Neddy as swimming home. Drinking started as a normal activity to do as he goes from pool to pool, but Neddy started to pivot on the alcohol which eventually poison his relationships and made him and alcoholic. The used of sounds track in the film really created pathos, it has a big effect on the viewers. We experience need and agony, the soundtrack help exposed Neddy as a liar as well as a failed. This man’s suffering is portrayed by the used of soundtrack.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Thanks, Yovanna. Can you share a particular scene or quote that was meaningful to you? Where in the film did you find the music compelling?

      • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

        Perhaps also elaborate on what you mean by Ned pivoting on alcohol? Do you think his relationship with it changes as the story progresses?

        • Yovanna

          In the film I found the soundtrack on the last scene most compelling when Ned reaches home, since the music helped invocation sadness. The quote that stood out to me, “He was not a practical joke nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure”. This quote highlights Ned’s mindset toward himself,  he  believes he is a “legendary figure.” Which is kinda irrational, since in the story the author says that Ned has a “modest” opinion of himself. I believe Ned’s viewpoint is wrong, because of the way things turned out for him, his friends lowkey cut him off, his family has vanished and he’s just left alone. Alcohol is the central thing that Neddy depends upon, it has a negative impact on his lifestyle. In the story the author emphasized the stages of alcoholism and effects of alcohol in Ned’s life. Whenever Neddy went from pool to pool, in my opinion each pool symbolize the different phases of his drinking, as his obsession worsens as he kept on going.

  16. Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

    Wilmer,
    This is a very interesting reading. I must admit I don’t entirely agree with your assessment of Ned’s interaction with the babysitter (Julie)— the Director seems to hint at the rather sad and ultimately predatory element in their interaction. You are right however that this character is one of the few who (at least initially) idolizes Ned.

    Your interpretation of this journey as one that Ned pursues after death is quite interesting. In a way the pool crawl is a retrospective of his life and potential sins.

    Thanks for bringing up the added scene with the child and the empty pool. A question for everyone: what effect does this scene have on our understanding of Ned? Why is the pool empty? Is this the only empty pool he encounters?

    And again, what do we make of the season and the weather as the story progresses? How does the Director illustrate this?

    • Wilmer U. Chavez

      The scene of the child had a big impact of my understanding about Ned because the child was selling a juice and Ned told him that he does not have money and the next day will pay him and the child knew that he would not pay him for the juice. This scene made me think if Ned really have money and lives near the child home and he is friend of the child’s parents the child should know him. Then , I started to watch closely Ned and the only thing that he has on him is just his boxer and any person that could find him on the street could him that he is homeless. However, this also can symbolize that he is free of spirit and adventurous man. Continuously, the child’s pool is empty for 2 factors: one is that the parents are nor paying attention to the house and more important they are not paying attention to the child and this child is being neglected. And this not the only empty pool that we can find empty also the pool in Ned’s house is empty and in bad state because even though we can not see his pool in the movie for the state that is the house we can notice that also his pool should be duty and empty.

      Since the beginning the weather is changing starts with a beautiful day with a shinning sun and little by little it is changing to an obscure and raining day and even at the end with thunder and lightning together with the rain. In my opinion in the way how is the day is like the foreshadowing of what going to happen that everything is getting worst in his life. Besides, we can also notice in the movie that need while is happening the time and visiting the pools he is getting worst in the way that the walk (limping) and in his health because the is like shaking until the point that when he was climbing to his house I thought he would died before he gets home for the way he looks.

      • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

        Good observations here, Wilmer. We go from sunshine to storm, and from what seems like the height of summer to… autumn? In Perry’s film we see the leaves turning color.

        Interesting point, too, about Ned’s aging in the course of the story. You are absolutely right– he begins as a youthful middle aged man full of strength and joy, and ends up limping, stumbling forward.

  17. Daniel King

    How many pools did Ned conquer in the short story? In the film?
    The short story starts with Ned at a pool and planning to swim 15 more on his journey home.
    In the film he plans to go to the Grahams, the Leers, The Bunkers, then a portage through the Peston’s riding ring, to the Hallorans and the Gilmartins, then down to the Biswangers, then Shirley Abbots, across the highway to the recreation center pool, and then home. These are the ones we actually see him swim through.
    1- Don and Helen’s pool.
    2- Betty and Howard Graham’s pool.
    3- Mrs Hammer’s or her late son Eric’s pool.
    4- Muffie’s parents pool with Vernon and Julie Ann Hooper the babysitter.
    5- Enid Bunker’s pool / house party.
    6- The nudists’ pool, Chester Halloran and his wife.
    7- He “swims” through Kevin Gimartin Jr’s pool with him.
    8- Grace and Henry Biswanger’s pool at the party for Henry’s hole in one.
    9- Shirley Abbot’s pool.
    10- The public pool / recreation center.

    Where does John Cheever make an appearance in the film?
    I think I saw Cheever at Henry’s hole in one pool party at the Biswanger residence.

    Original poster (1968)
    What is the poster asking viewers to do?
    There are many aspects of societal norms or expectations being touched on in this film. Maybe the poster is saying that if you talk about the movie you’ll only be interested in the odd parts of Ned that stick out or are akin to you. Ned has a mysterious past that unravels throughout the story as he interacts with more of the people who live along the “Lucinda” river. Maybe the poster is just referring to the way Ned is narcissistic and thinks about himself. Maybe the poster is asking people to place themselves somewhere in the film, as in what pool would they most likely see themselves hanging out in.

    What is the goal of this marketing campaign?
    The goal of most marketing campaigns is to get you to think and talk about the subject matter. It’s ambiguous and doesn’t reveal anything about the plot other than Ned and Shirley’s closeness, but even then the viewer doesn’t know yet that in that moment she’s upset with Ned asking him to stop trying to rekindle their past. I think the goal of the marketing campaign is also to challenge people to think about how they treat others when they don’t know their whole life story.

    What do we know about Ned Merrill at the end?
    In the written short story we know that he was a married man, with four daughters living in an affluent neighborhood. His wife seems to have left him and moved away with their children. We know that Ned likes to drink. He also seems to have a bad habit of borrowing money or buying things he can’t afford. We know that he used to be in the military and he shows signs of PTSD and memory loss. His mind seems to hide painful memories from existing in his conscious mind.

    Analyze the camera work in a scene from the film.
    I love the shot at 01:13:48 when the camera moves down while panning up to look at Shirley, and then cuts to the camera looking down at Ned as he starts to shiver. This adds to her strong upset facial emotions and normally would seem to give her power over Ned by making it look like she’s looking down on him but a part of her still cares about Ned. She offers to give him a sweater or drive him home. Shortly after when he’s screaming that she loved it (the affair) after she storms off and runs inside. She slams the door and the sound is exaggerated almost like a gunshot. It goes into another extreme close up as his eyes start to stare blankly. These extreme closeups are used a handful of times into Ned’s eyes. I think this may be Perry’s way of Ned exhibiting signs of ptsd and showing that his mind is blocking him from experiencing harsh reality or remembering traumatic memories. The camera really leans into the emotions of the characters, especially during their conversation around Shirley’s pool. The camera follows Shirley as she tries to get away from Ned, around the pool, then into it, and inside. It’s always moving with her and Ned follows.

    So, I watched the film twice. I absolutely loved Janice Rule’s performance as Shirley Abbott in the film adaptation of The Swimmer. I think that Ned Merrill truly believes he is a good person. He has the intention to save Kevin Gilmartin Jr’s life when he hears him jumping on the diving board. This was after Ned says “If you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is for you.” I think he was trying to lift Kevins spirits after hearing him vent to him about his frustrations. It’s like he tries to do the right thing but is oblivious to the hurt he’s left in his wake. I want to know exactly what happened to Ned two or three years ago that made his wife and daughters leave and resent him. Did she find out about the affair? Did Ned drive drunk and crash his red Jaguar one night? Is he trying to live out the rest of his days on his word alone? He apparently has a bad habit of owing people money. Where was he coming from in the beginning of the film? The story started with him together with his wife and essentially took place over different moments in time. The beginning of the film during the intro credits alludes to that with the scenes through the forest with shots of an owl at night time showing up twice.

    • kezia king

      I also had to watch the movie twice! It was really hard to understand at first and until the second time I could really understand it more and actually really loved and enjoyed it! I like how you gave your own opinion about what Ned thinks like I got to see it through your pint of view especially when you said “ he believes he’s a good person” I also agreed with this and felt this was true as well! I also agree with you strong points of how he believes he is doing right but only is drowning in failure!

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Daniel:
      Thoughtful and astute response here that plumbs some of the most important scenes of the film, including the one with Kevin, which I agree humanizes Ned. It is perhaps the only time when he acts– doesn’t just think fleetingly about someone else’s plight but acts– and prevents a tragedy. The scene with the empty pool symbolizes so much– similar to Ned, the boy is without a family, and Ned is able to play an adult, father role here.

      I also concur about the power of Janice Rule’s scene– screenwriter Eleanor Perry’s interesting decision to give this character more dimension results in a much more comprehensive, less fragmented portrait of Ned. Shirley Abbott reluctantly attempts to talk to Ned Merrill, and we as viewers are given a glimpse into more of his character.

      Good eye re: Cheever! You might have also espied a young Joan Rivers there…

      Thanks, too, for bringing up the public pool. The humiliation Ned experiences at this public (gasp), crowded establishment signals the continuing downward spiral.

      I believe the promotional poster for the movie asks us to look truthfully at our own existences, rather than just judge Ned’s.

  18. Al Saffie

    I enjoyed the Swimmer, both the movie and the story. The Believe the movie does an amazing job of organizing the sequence from good to bad. Neddy starts off the day enjoying himself amongst people who seem genuinely pleased to be in his presence. As the day continues, and he journeys through the “Lucinda River” it becomes apparent that he’s not well-received with everyone as first observed. Every stop in his journey reveals some character flaw in his character. He becomes disliked and unappreciated as he reaches the end of his journey. Similarly, the story takes him through this path.
    The Story is somewhat similar to the movie. The Story does provide the same context of dislike and appreciation for Neddy, however, it’s not in sequence from good to bad. There were some missing parts to the movie, like the little boy, and the babysitters. I feel the movie does a better job of capturing the entire moral of The Swimmer.
    The movies give me a feeling of someone that is on a journey of different layers. I keep thinking of Dante’s Inferno while watching the film. However, I wouldn’t compare Ned’s journey with the descent into hell. I think Ned is a representation of something that was once appreciated, cherished, something that may no longer be useful. I have read reviews comparing Ned to the American dream. I feel like his journey is much broader than that. I feel it’s something that can be associated with anything of value that has lost its appreciation

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Al,
      Fascinating parallel to Dante’s Inferno here. Yes– circles (or pools?) of descent. I also like your pushing back against the American dream element– the critique of suburbia, perhaps concerns the dream, but I agree with you that this story is much more expansive, having to do with age and the loss of youth, loss of self and identity.

  19. Tamara Ivana

    The film The Swimmer made me feel uncomfortable in the best way possible. I think a lot of it roots from the details that were left unknown throughout the story. From the very first scene at the pool with all of Ned’s friends, you see they’re all surprised but delighted to see him and spend time with him. However I couldn’t shake the feeling of a half joyous tone that turned into a half worried tone once he voiced the journey he planned to embark on and that he was doing it for his wife. This continued throughout the film as it went from people uplifting Ned with joy of seeing him and having him show up at their pools and parties and then bringing him back down and sending him into confusion by either offering their condolences and worries of his misfortunes or being snarky and attacking him on his downfall and struggles. At one party he’s celebrated, at the next he’s berated. It made it difficult for me to gage if he was a good guy with a tainted suburban reputation or just a bad guy who doesn’t remember he’s a bad guy? I loved it in frustration, the not knowing. It wasn’t until way later that I read into the role of alcohol in the film and I think it was Ned’s turning down a drink at the second pool that I crossed that focus off my list despite the social scene being set with the “I drank too much last night” repetition in the first scene. Through the progressive whispers at parties and confrontations I think I concluded that Neddy had a good and wealthy life that he eventually lost control of. An outstanding and handsome suburban man, colored in lavish outings, exquisite company and connections. A life so rich and “secure” that he let the control go a little and let alcohol and promiscuity in until – like a careless rich man’s life always does, it came to a harsh end. I loved Neddy at first, we shared the same love and admiration for water and swimming. In the end however, I couldn’t help but sit in a cruel “maybe he got what he deserved” thought.

    I turned to the reading of “The Swimmer” seeking for more depth and further clarification on this confusing hot and cold character that was Ned In the text it’s said that “He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.” (Cheever 727) I thought this was perfectly embodied in the character’s introduction in the film, the part that I too thought I might be enamored by him; and I truly think it is how he sees and thinks of himself. However, as the story progresses towards the Biswangers’ pool the author writes “They were always rebuffed and yet they continued to send out their invitations, unwilling to comprehend the rigid and undemocratic realities of their society. They were the sort of people who discussed the price of things at cocktails, exchanged market tips during dinner, and after dinner told dirty stories to mixed company. They did not belong to Neddy’s set—they were not even on Lucinda’s Christmas-card list.” (Cheever 735) This shows a perfect piece of that old charming character that might’ve carried him and his family in a “too good to be seen with you” lifestyle that everyone seems to be fed up with in the film but is never really fully displayed. After reading that, I settled in my “he got what he deserved” feeling. I think like everyone else in the story, I’d be happy to see Ned at a bar socializing just to see that he’s doing okay and surviving. However, post-pandemic, he would not be on my seek-out and check up on list.

    To summarize, I think both the film and the text do a great job at showing someone who drank himself into selective memory of not only his life but his character. I think alcohol can bring out the worst and the ugly in people. I also strongly believe it’s easier for this to happen when you’re surrounded by all the physical, emotional and financial comforts that sometimes waters such behavior. I think Neddy had all of that; the looks, the family and home and of course the money. He lived the american dream until he drank himself into an american nightmare.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      What a powerful closing line, Tamara, and brilliant response about discomfort. It strikes me that as readers and viewers we are asked to be unwitting guests at the waning party of Ned Merrill’s life– we are present at the very beginning when Lucinda herself makes an appearance, and we are still there, perhaps overstaying our welcome, when the Merrill house is dark and abandoned. This all engenders enormous discomfort, as we are witness to a person’s decline.

      I appreciate, in good humor, that post-pandemic you’d want to be sure that Ned is okay, getting through– but perhaps he wouldn’t make your Christmas card list…

  20. CindyNicole

    The swimmer (short story) – The story of the swimmer written by John Cheever is about a man who has become so disillusioned with his own life that he embarks on a far-reaching journey to “swim across the county” in order to get home. Throughout the story we see a very flawed man and all of complexities of his former life start to show. He suffers from alcoholism which has caused him to lose everything in his life from his children to his wife, his wealth and more importantly his social status. He is so laser focused on completing his journey that he’s oblivious to all of the changes that have happened around him. Some friends have moved away, some ridicule him and very few were happy to see him. His mistress detests him and has moved on and his family is gone. The two things that seemed utterly important to him was finding a drink and his ego. He always expected people to be happy to see him, welcome him with open arms and fawn all over him so it was a harsh reality when most of the encounters he faced throughout his swim across the county were abysmal.

    The swimmer (film)- The film by Eleanor and Frank Perry was slightly different from the short story. It had a very slow start which I found to be boring but then the film picks up when we see his interactions with his neighbors. There’s subtle hints of his alcoholic tendencies by Neddy seemingly looking for a drink at every stop he makes. The film did an excellent job at delving deeper into Neddy Merrill’s past friendships and relationships. We find out that he is a man with no morals; he makes promises he knows he cannot keep, a womanizer, an adulterer, cares too much about a perfect image and a perfect life. The lowest points of Neddy’s character for me that stand out in my mind vividly was when he forced himself on a woman not once but twice. Once on his babysitter and the other time on his mistress. The scene that really got to me was when he promised the little boy to pay him back 10cents for the lemonade then he taught him swimming techniques and tried to give him confidence to do it on his own. He left the little boy by an empty pool with an empty promise of seeing him again; it was at that point I realized he wasn’t a misunderstood person; he was just a sucky person.

    One of your questions in your lecture was “How do they resonate today”, To me given the era of the #metoo movement this film would be considered very controversial today. It sparked an emotional response when he got handsy and inappropriate with his children’s babysitter; knowing she had confided in him and followed his ridiculous idea of swimming home. He abused that trust and again led with false promises of picking her up everyday and being with her. Then he tried to undress Shirley his ex-mistress in the pool when she repeatedly said no. Another scene that I found controversial and a bit racist was when Neddy walked up to the Halloran’s house and he confused their current driver with a former driver of theirs he knew, Steve. He spoke of Steve’s unintelligible English but that he could carry a tune to which the driver quipped “a natural sense of rhythm” to which he relied to “yeah”. The driver was basically calling out his stereotyping since both drivers are brown skin toned and appear to look similar but Neddy was to oblivious to notice.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Cindy:
      YES– very, very important comments here regarding both the casual misogyny and racism that Eleanor Perry (screenwriter– a woman herself) chooses to include in the film. She intentionally added these scenes–which I think one can argue are very critical of the protagonist–in a fairly progressive mode for the 1960s. What we get in Cheever’s story is a lot of whiteness and exclusion, and Eleanor Perry’s decision to inflect the film with racial stereotyping and unwanted sexual advances (occurring, by the way, with women who previously would have been considered of a lesser class than the Merrills) rounds out the portrait and indictment of this kind of suburban existence.

  21. Jeffrey Shor

    I enjoyed both the film and the story of “The Swimmer” as both versions were slightly different but still told the overall story.

    Story
    As pandemic restrictions are lifted and socializing is a thing again, I personally would not add Ned Merrill to my list of folks to see. Ned seems like he may be a good time in certain aspects, he loves to swim, he is an active person, loves to drink, long for adventure, and seems to have a large circle of people around him. With that being said, I was not too fond of Ned as a character because he just seemed to be in a downward spiral and delusion. I also am not a fan of pools or swimming as I do not know how to swim myself. I would not share the same love and interests that Ned has and I feel we would not get along together.

    Film
    In the film adaptation, while the same storyline was included, certain aspects had been changed. For instance, at the beginning of the story, Ned was with his wife, whereas at the beginning of the film, it is somewhat unclear where Ned is coming from as bits of the forest were shown and then cuts to the first scene in the pool. The end of the film shows Ned banging on the door and crying in the middle of the thunderstorm, where the story states that Ned looked into the house and attempted opening the garage door as well. The film showed the viewer a glimpse into the house but did not show what Ned saw, other than him banging on the door. Due to these differences from the original story, it showed that Ned had a realization at the end of the film of how his life truly was destroyed over time, compared to Ned in the story actually seeing all of the aspects of his life.

    • Caroline Chamberlin Hellman

      Jeffrey,
      First of all, thanks for the humor here about getting together with Ned Merrill. You provide a useful assessment of the positive qualities he offers, but concluding that those do not outweigh the negatives ones.

      GOOD EYE in the comparison of the story and film here– in the film he is essentially presented as homeless, while in the story we get a sense of his domestic existence prior to his journey on the Lucinda River. Establishing Ned at home vs. seeing him emerge from a forest– very different snapshots and story arcs.

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