The 1968 film adaptation of John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer" is generally considered to be an allegory of the American Dream. As with most such allegories, the film subverts the American Dream, presenting it in a thoroughly negative light.
The protagonist Ned Merrill's well-heeled neighbors, through whose swimming pools he makes his way home, are shown to us as leading lives of shallow opulence. They are all, in their own individual way, less real than Ned, who comes off like a tragic hero as he makes his way back to his decaying home.
Throughout his epic journey, Ned betrays few signs that he's the kind of guy who'd live in such a dilapidated old pile. Tall, muscular, and bronzed, he's the epitome of the confidence and self-assurance that the American Dream gives to those who have achieved it.
But in actual fact, Ned, rather like the American Dream itself, is much more complicated than the bright, glittering surface would suggest. The film leaves us with the uncomfortable sense that neither Ned nor his wealthy neighbors can ever truly possess the dream life.
Shot in a hazy, stylized manner beloved of late 1960s cinematography, the film's shiny surface perfectly replicates the vacuity of suburban life, with its inability to comprehend within its midst anything strange, different, or singular.