To the movies: ‘The Hundred Year Old Man…’

Alex Pitstra, a film director from Groningen, went to see the movie 'The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’. It’s about digging into the past, like Pitstra did in his own film, ‘Die Welt’.

The film adaptation of the internationally bestselling book is a frame story of Allan Karlsson, a hundred-year-old man who… well, you know. During Karlsson’s travels, he reflects on his life. Digging into the past is also what Alex Pitstra, a director from Groningen, does in his critically-acclaimed film, Die Welt.

The hundred-year-old Karlsson made a living out of blowing things up. This explosive tendency – which results in a dead fox – is what lands him in a retirement home, the one with the window that he escapes from. After that, his story continues. And continues. ‘And continues. It’s a chain of peaks. Funny at some points, but overall a little corny’, Pitstra thinks.

Robert Gustafsson, considered to be Sweden’s funniest man, plays the role of Karlsson. He makes it look easy, probably because Karlsson doesn’t really care about anything, except maybe for his cat. ‘This stoic attitude is copied by the film makers, so in the end, as a spectator, you stop caring, too’, says Pitstra.

Forrest Gump

In his own movie, Pitstra tried to figure out what his youth would have looked like if he hadn’t been raised in the Netherlands but instead in Tunisia, where his father comes from. ‘I found that that even after the Arab Spring, young people don’t have a lot of chances, however gifted they are’, Pitstra says.

Karlsson is also a boy who didn’t have it easy in his youth. However, very much like Forrest Gump and very much unlike Pitstra’s protagonist, he manages to influence some very important people throughout his lifetime.

Forrest Gump’s mama taught him his famous motto – ‘Life is like a box of chocolates: you never what you’re gonna get.’ Allan Karlsson’s mother gave her son a similar slogan: ‘Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.’

Accept his fate

That approach gets both Gump and Karlsson far in life, but with one crucial difference: ‘Karlsson doesn’t let anything get to him. He always simply accepts his fate’, says Pitstra. ‘Forrest Gump has something at stake – he has to run. It makes him just a little bit more human.’

For Karlsson, his lack of empathy is what gets him places. Places like a dinner party hosted by Francisco Franco, where Karlsson ends up drinking wine with the Spanish fascist dictator. He also gets hammered with President Harry Truman shortly before telling an equally drunk Joseph Stalin that men shouldn’t dance. Karlsson proves that when you ignore ethics, you can go anywhere you like.

A little too long

‘It is an interesting philosophy that a film maker could work on and explore further’, Pitstra suggests. ‘However, this film doesn’t have that idiosyncratic nature – it doesn’t surprise. I haven’t read the book, and I doubt if I will, but I imagine that the movie just nicely follows the plot and that’s it. The character doesn’t develop. Everything that happens is just pure coincidence’, he says, hastening to add that didn’t think he did a better job in his own film.

According to Pitstra, the cinema should be a place where you can shut out everything else and focus all your attention on what you see and hear. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is amusing and at some points even funny, but just a little too long and cliché to hold your attention to the end.