“Run, Forest, Run!”
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared might just be the best parody of Forrest Gump that nobody asked for. The parallels are so blatant – a blithe simpleton inadvertently affects major historical events and political figures, all while spouting his mother’s truisms – that they have to be deliberate. Yet it would be a mistake to go into 100-Year-Old Man expecting a shred of innocence, sentimentality, or good family fun. No, this is in fact a sordid tale, dressed up to look like Disney and told with a beguiling grin.
Based on Swedish author Jonas Jonasson’s 2009 novel of the same name, 100-Year-Old Man revolves around Allan Karlsson and his adventures both past and present. On his 100th birthday, Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson, one of Sweden’s most popular comedians) escapes from his nursing home – can you guess how? – and skips town. Along the way he comes into possession of a suitcase full of money and, pursued by a gang of incompetent thugs, makes his way through the countryside with a growing cadre of accomplices. At the same time, he regales us with the highlights of his remarkable life: helping invent the atomic bomb, cozying up with Franco and Stalin, working as a double agent during the Cold War. His participation in these events is wholly accidental; he simply pursues his two lifelong passions – alcohol and explosives – and winds up in grand company.
In the hands of director Felix Herngren, the whole affair zips about with an effervescent vitality, masking the grim details beneath the veneer of a lighthearted romp. And Gustafsson’s wonderful performance and narration, charmingly oblivious throughout, contributes to the atmosphere of frivolity. Together, their generous spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go virtually unnoticed. And my, what strong medicine it is. Karlsson, recounting his life in voiceover, breezes through his father’s execution, his own forced sterilization, a stint in a Russian gulag, and the numerous political assassinations that resulted from his espionage work. Meanwhile, in the present day, the body count continues to rise as the violent thugs after their money find increasingly creative ways to perish. It’s impressive, really, the way they’re able to convince you that what’s transpiring isn’t actually that bad, that the death and destruction is all in good fun. Hell, they even convince you to laugh at it. Herngren and his talented ensemble – spurred along by Henrik Källberg’s sprightly editing – have fantastic comic timing and delivery, and work from an excellent adapted screenplay that is suitably absurd. It’s dark comedy, to be sure, but it’s very, very funny.
Again, Forrest Gump is the most obvious touchstone here. Karlsson, like Gump, is largely unaware of his effect on the people around him, and his singular, obsessive talent makes him a standout from an early age. Only this time, his indifference borders on cruel and his talent – explosives – leaves a trail of decimated corpses in its wake. Plus he’s an incurable drunk, and his mother’s platitudes – “Life is what it is, and will be what it will be” – are decidedly fatalistic. It’s as though Herngren and co. have unearthed the cynical undercurrent coursing just beneath Zemeckis’ wide-eyed and uncritical splendor.
But this show isn’t a one-trick pony. With its manic celebration of rural peculiarity, 100-Year-Old Man presents a clear homage to the Coen Brothers – Fargo and Raising Arizona in particular. There’s also, in the vociferous gangsters and their missing loot, a nod to Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. And like those filmmakers, Herngren doesn’t direct from a distance; you feel his mischievous presence in every frame. When the story reaches its climax and arrives at a wildly coincidental but enormously satisfying conclusion, without a loose string in sight, you can almost envision Herngren tying off the bow himself and departing with a wink.