A Pitch-Black Comedy, ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ Charms Nonetheless

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21 years ago, Forest Gump swept the public away with its glossy sentimentality and rosy nostalgia. In the time since, many have turned on the film, decrying it for glossy sentimentality and rosy nostalgia. Though I’ve heard it argued that there is an underlying cynicism to the Robert Zemeckis film, I’ve never been able to see it. But what if there were a Forest Gump-type of film that completely shunned nostalgia and sentimentality of all kinds, that’s neither sappy nor cynical. If there were such a film, I imagine it would look a lot like The 100-Year-Old man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. This pitch-black comedy by Felix Herngren, based on the book of the same name by Jonas Jonasson, easily overcomes some structural flaws with its abundant charm.

On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlson (Robert Gustafsson) sneaks out the window of the nursing home where he was staying. Having wandered to the bus station where he purchases a ticket for as far as he could go with what little money he has, the elderly fellow steals the suitcase of a young man. Unbeknownst to Allan, the suitcase was full of money from a biker ring led by The Boss (Jens Hultén), who is under orders to deliver it to the crime lord Pim, played by Snatch’s Alan Ford. Along his travels, Allan is joined by Julius (Iwar Wiklander), Benny (David Wiberg), and Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), as well as Gunilla’s pet elephant. But the biker gang is hot on their trail as is Inspector Aronsson (Ralph Carlsson), though the detective is unaware of the vast sum of money at play here.

But the crime farce is just one part of the story as Allan recalls events from the past during the chase which he is mostly oblivious or indifferent to. These flashbacks cover Allan’s youth – the death of his mother and the birth of his love affair with explosives. It’s that love of explosions that drives Allan throughout places and times in history. As a young man, he fights in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascist forces, blowing up bridges with passion. Shortly after that, he finds himself in America and his predilection for explosives leads him to assisting on the Manhattan Project. And after all that, this simple man who likes it when things go boom is a central figure in the Cold War. Over these years, Allan has encounters with Franco, Stalin, Reagan, and Einstein’s dimwit brother Herbert. All these encounters are slightly reminiscent of Forest Gump, a simple man playing a great role in history, but Allan’s encounters aren’t anywhere as heartwarming as anything in the 1994 film. Unless you find a lengthy stay in a Soviet Gulag heartwarming.

As much as these flashbacks are whimsical and entertaining, very few of the flashbacks have much to do with the film’s central story. A number of these scenes could’ve been trimmed or cut and greatly improved the film’s pacing. However, it’s not a problem the film can’t overcome. Under layers of excellent makeup work, Robert Gustafsson gives a subtle performance, allowing most of the film’s pitch-black humor be caused by his actions than his reactions. And those actions can have sometimes fatal consequences and gory results.

Even though the film is a bit overlong and the central farce flows much better than the flashbacks, Felix Herngren has crafted an amusing little oddity. Unlike so many films that are centered round age, The 100-Year-Old Man doesn’t have this mournful respite on the ravages of aging – perhaps that’s just because the role is played by a younger man in makeup. Like its title, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared does run a bit too long. Despite its minor flaws, the film is entertaining and amusing throughout, carrying with it a few unexpected surprises.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared opens in select theaters on May 8th. Full list of theaters here.

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