Movie review: The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

(image via Cookienscreen)
(image via Cookienscreen)

 

Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) likes to blow things up.

It doesn’t really matter where or when – at one point he fights against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War simply so he can hear things go “Boom!”; his allegiance is to the explosion and only the explosion such that he happily accepts Franco’s offer of hospitality when he inadvertently “saves” his life – as long as he is able watch his mother’s Russian nesting dolls or his henhouse or bridges blow into a million tiny pieces.

His needs are simple and his philosophy, gleaned from his mother’s unhappiness with his intellectual revolutionary father’s propensity to think and say too much, that “life is what it is and will do what it will do” is what propels him through life, and in turn gives vigour and humour to the absurdist delights of the lengthily-titled The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared, based on the best-selling book by Jonas Jonasson.

His entire life, which he notes began with people screaming at him and will likely end in the same way (his is not, after all, an entirely unselfish existence), is an accidental one, neither planned nor well thought-out, a series of impulsive moves that eschew any weighing of the pros and cons, relying solely on whether it seems like a good idea at the time, or who he has for company at a given moment.

And now at the ripe old age of 100, consigned to a small room in a nursing home when his attempts to dynamite the fox that killed his beloved ginger tabby Molotov go horribly awry, he is left sitting on his bed, stripped of any choices, with life one predictable moment after another, anathema to to someone who lived such a made-up, who knows what’s coming next life as he has.

 

With characteristically minimal thought but maximum consequences, Allan Karlsson goes off on his latest grand adventure, profoundly changing his life and that of a disparate group of individuals forever (image via Outnow (c) Buena Vista International)
With characteristically minimal thought but maximum consequences, Allan Karlsson goes off on his latest grand adventure, profoundly changing his life and that of a disparate group of individuals forever (image via Outnow (c) Buena Vista International)

 

Thus, with a birthday party of sorts imminent, Allan, after a characteristically nanosecond of contemplation, opens the large window to the outside world, clambers out and shuffles off to the local bus station, and boards the first bus going anywhere, hauling behind a large silver suitcase stuffed with 50 million krona he was minding for a rather disagreeable young biker youngster.

This act, as little thought-out as any in Allan’s delightfully shambolic life, sets in train a series of hilariously farcical events which sees him accumulate, in short order, the attentions of the police, sundry gangster thugs (all of whom prove ill-adept at recovering their boss, Pim’s (Alan Ford) money, and the company of a disparate group of fellow lost souls.

These people who become a family of a kind by film’s end – bored retired train worker and accordionist Julius (Iwar Wiklander), indecisive, “almost” zoologist/HR specialist/veterinarian/psychologist Benny (David Wiberg) and self-assured farmer and animal rights activist Gunilla (Mia Skäringer) and her purloined circus elephant Olga – make for a hilariously mismatched group on the surface but as the events of the movie play out, they turn out to be more alike in spirit and intent than might have been initially apparent.

A delightfully off-kilter chase movie of sorts, which intersperses the event of the present with Allan’s colourful life which sees him move from a mental hospital to working on the Manhattan Project  to meeting with Stalin to life in a gulag and life of spying; basically whatever took Allan’s fancy at the time, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared is a quirky delight that pleases at every turn.

Fuelled by comedian and actor Gustaffson’s impressive turn as a centenarian living, as always, in his own little world – in the midst of disposing of bodies or fleeing the unwanted attention of the inept thugs after their money, he is more concerned with what there is to eat or drink, or if he can have a swim than the critically important events at hand – the film follows a reasonably straightforward narrative, neither taking itself too seriously, nor becoming a thriller in even remotely the strictest sense of the word.

 

With his new-found and thoroughly unexpected family in tow, an unfazed Allan, used to life delighting and surprising in unexpected ways, sets off for another adventure thanks to his long time friend Oleg (Sergej Merkusjev) (Image via Critics Notebook (c) Buena Vista International)
With his new-found and thoroughly unexpected family in tow, an unfazed Allan, used to life delighting and surprising in unexpected ways, sets off for another adventure thanks to his long time friend Oleg (Sergej Merkusjev) (Image via Critics Notebook (c) Buena Vista International)

 

Every twist and turn in this laconically-paced but never boring film, which come along one after the other in the sort of way that would throw most people, such as his newly-found companions, leave Allan utterly unfazed.

His life has always been about seeing what a particular event would lead to, no matter how bizarre, extreme or unusual it might be, and so the idea of gangsters chasing him, or being in possession of more money that he has ever seen in his life, or the cross-country riotous journey through Sweden and beyond that it takes him on is treated with the sort of equanimity produced by a lifetime of just accepting what comes along.

It’s this blithe attitude that gives the quietly comedic moments in the film, of which there are many, so many power to amuse and delight.

Taken at face value, the ever building pile of dead bodies, unlikely compatriots and joyfully-lucky coincidences should be leading to a film so farcically wound up that by the credits it should be a spinning, spitting ball of roiling absurdity.

But taking its cue from Karlsson’s whatever comes along, just deal with and enjoy it mentality, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared, directed with assured comic direction by Felix Herngren (who wrote the screenplay with the author and Hans Ingemansson), and accompanied by mischievously chipper, grin-inducing band music, happily potters along treating every gleefully over the top moment as if it  a normal part of life, amplifying the humour a hundred-fold as a result.

It is not a laugh out loud movie but then I suspect it was never intended to be.

Rather the enjoyment of watching this film, which has been a massive hit in the cinemas of Scandinavia and deservedly so, lies in its willingness to let everything simply play out, and its fulfillment of the idea that an unplanned life, no matter how messy or loopy, is not a wasted one; that if you simply put your mind in park, and accept what  is handed you, it will work itself out in ways both unexpected and pleasing, and ultimately, no matter how wrong turns you take, deeply-satisfying.

Even if everyone does insist on screaming at you for no accountable reason.

 

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