Directed by: Lynne Ramsay.
Starring: Tom Litten (The Swimmer).
Swimmer is a very odd short film by Lynne Ramsay – and it’s even odder considering it was commissioned by the BBC and London Olympic Committee to celebrate the 2012 summer games in London. It is a film about a lone swimmer going across the rivers and lakes in Britain, as some patriotic British music plays in the background. We also get snippets of dialogue and music from British films – like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and the theme from Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies. The film is shot in stark, beautiful black and white – as the young man cuts through the water. But the film becomes darker as it goes along – children appear on the banks – they very well could have stepped out Lord of the Flies –and while the swimmer eventually gets out of the water, he also returns to it, and sinks underneath – not unlike the protagonist of Ramsay’s first feature Ratcatcher – who dies either a literal or metaphorical death at the end.
The film appears to be a dream that turns into a nightmare – and like all of Ramsay’s films, it remains ambiguous as to its meanings. This is perhaps the only film of Ramsay’s that I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s a haunting a beautiful film – you can see why it was acclaimed (it won the BAFTA for best short film in 2012) and yet its point remains shrouded in mystery. For a promotion film for the Olympics, the film seems almost impossibly dark. While it starts out somewhat romanticizing the dedication of the athlete, who puts everyone and everything outside himself when he’s swimming, it ends in a very dark place about what that actually means. I cannot help but wonder what the London Olympic Committee made of the film they helped pay for.
Whatever Swimmer ultimately means – and even more than Ramsay’s other films, all of which leave it up to the viewer to decide this one remains ambiguous. But damn it if it isn’t haunting and beautiful jus the same. I may not be able to describe the film adequately – but I won’t soon forget it either.