Another American Tragedy: The Swimmer

Like another classic American tale inextricably linked with water, Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy, the John Cheever short story “The Swimmer” is about people wanting to have it all – to have their cake and eat it too, as the saying goes. The 1968 film adaptation of the Cheever story, Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, depicts the American dream as it swiftly morphs into the American nightmare. It is the story of a man’s journey through life, even though it takes place over the course of only one day, showing his attempts to cling to youth, virility and happiness.

In this series of thirteen images, observe how the film is more than just a paean to Lancaster’s physique (though it was obviously impressive for a man of 52 and the camera does linger on his body in an adoring, almost fetishistic way); rather, it is about the loss of the so-called American dream for a man who says at one point that “if you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you.” Wanting to hold onto the beautiful, romantic hopes and delusions of bygone days turns Lancaster’s character’s life into another American tragedy.


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