The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared. A film by Felix Hengren
The audience at the oldster movies is starting to get out of hand. There wasn’t much of a crowd in the Asheville multiplex where I saw this movie, but I might have been the only one under 70. We have trouble hearing as we get older, but people were talking so loud during the previews you could hear them down the hall. It was like a Presbyterian church when the organ introit stops. The old guy in front of me had sprung for a beer. Why not? And people laughed uproariously at things actors did in the trailers, you know, younger people, doing the things young people do. Sex.
This movie was a longshot. It got only a short—though favorable—notice in the Times. Trainwreck and Infinitely Polar Bear got much more hype. But I looked at the Internet scenes from those movies and they seemed lame. Mark Ruffalo acting hyper, when we all know he’s the coolest dude on the planet. A Judd Apatow movie where a woman is the immature asshole. Good feminist statement, Judd. I was ready for a movie this weekend, but not for those.
All the youngsters who avoided this movie for the obvious reasons missed out. The 100 Year Old Man is hilarious, and beautifully done. It’s a piece of fluff, a mindless comedy that is often funny because you can’t believe what this old fart is doing. It didn’t even put me off when I discovered (this morning) that the lead actor is actually 48 years old, and sometimes had to start putting on prosthetics at 2:00 AM. This may be that elusive thing, the feel good movie of the year.
Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustaffson), the old man in question, does climb out the window of his nursing home on the day they’re throwing his 100th birthday (they try to put 100 candles on the cake, keep losing count). Why would he do such a thing? everyone wonders, and I’m tempted to say “Because he can” (like the old joke about why a dog licks his balls), but I also thought, “Anybody who’s ever been in a nursing home, even on a visit, knows why.” He has no plan, just some change in his pocket, sets out for the local bus station. Naturally, he grabs a suitcase that has 50 million something or others in them (not dollars, but whatever the currency is in Sweden. It’s a lot of cash). He gets on a bus heading for the middle of nowhere. The game is afoot, as Mr. Holmes would say.
While the plot unfolds in present time, Allan tells the story of his life. His father was some kind of goofy political activist who managed to get executed in the Soviet Union, and his mother died of an unnamed illness when he was quite young. As he stood beside her on her deathbed, worrying what would become of him, she said something which I can’t quote exactly, but which is probably the point of the movie, if it has a point, and which qualifies it as very Buddhist (although it could just as easily be Christian. Jesus had a few things to say on this subject as well). She said something to the effect of, All that anxiety does no good. What’s going to happen is going to happen. You don’t know what it is, and it’s not what you’re envisioning. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen. Just deal with things as they come up. That’s how to live your life.
The weird thing—maybe this is how you know it’s a fantasy—is that Allan actually lives that way, takes everything as it comes. The whole universe cooperates. He’s not trying to make things happen, just waiting to see what does happen. Everything opens up for him.
The young lad had a fascination with explosives. That leads to almost everything that happens to him, including a discussion with Alfred Oppenheimer that solves the primary problem of the atomic bomb, a drunken evening with Harry Truman when Harry gets the call that FDR has died, a similarly drunken evening with Stalin. Allan is a Zelig-like figure, a Candide who keeps stumbling into incredibly lucky situations. If he fell off a mountain he’d find gold. He’s like a perpetually plastered Forrest Gump. If he’s trying for anything, he’s trying to get another drink.
In the meantime, there’s that 50 million kroner to deal with, or whatever the hell they are. The sidekicks he runs into—another old duffer who’s delighted with his company and wants a shot at some of the money; a young man who picks them up hitchhiking and is in a perpetual dither, has spent his life nearly-amassing university degrees; a chunky woman who lives out in the country and has rescued an elephant from the circus—are as endearing as Allan. The drug dealers chasing them are completely serious and increasingly desperate, but they’re no match for this fortunate trio. Their hearts are pure, they’re not greedy (though of course they’d like a cut of 50 million), and they’re just living their lives.
This is kind of movie where a man is smothered when an elephant sits on him and it’s funny; young Allan accidentally blows up a newlywed who’s taking a leak in the wrong place—his head lands with a crack on the hood of his bride’s car—and you can’t help laughing. It’s a cartoon, in other words, but at a high level. It’s up there with the greatest of Bugs Bunny.
We all thought it was great, all the old guys who hurried to the bathroom as the credits rolled; that’s when oldsters exchange opinions, standing there at the urinals. That old boy knew how to live.
But it was a fantasy, you had to admit. His liver would never have lasted 100 years.
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