Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of the film adaptation of ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ at the Soho Hotel in London ahead of its general release on Friday. Thanks to the likes of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell, Sweden is generally more famous for producing atmospheric crime fiction. However, the comic novel by Jonas Jonasson has been a worldwide hit and has been translated into more than thirty languages with more than six million copies sold since 2009. The film is likely to match the book’s success across the globe this summer having already broken box office records in Sweden when it was released last December.
On his one hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson decides to escape from his nursing home and promptly climbs out of his bedroom window and disappears. On impulse, he boards a bus to the middle of nowhere with a stolen suitcase which turns out to be full of cash and a dimwitted biker gang and the police are soon hot on his trail. However, this isn’t the first big adventure that Allan has had in his very long and extraordinary life. The story has been widely compared to the film ‘Forrest Gump’ in that both of the main characters inadvertently find themselves at the centre of major world events. In Allan’s case, his talent for blowing things up allows him to travel the world, helping create the atom bomb and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Franco and Stalin.
Naturally, it is quite difficult to cram the story of a one hundred-year-old man’s life into a film of just over one hundred minutes. However, the film is faithful to the plot of the book and in some ways improves on it by cutting out some of the less essential flashback scenes such as when Allan visits China and Iran with more screen time devoted to Allan’s adventure in the present. It is also faithful to the quirky style of the book and I was pleased that the film didn’t receive the Hollywood treatment in terms of casting and locations. The humour of the book is quite silly and in many ways the film is even sillier but it doesn’t go too over the top. Benny was one of the most amusing characters with a great performance from David Wiberg. The role of Allan is played by one of Sweden’s most famous comedians, Robert Gustafsson, and his detached bemusement with the things that life throws at him is also very funny to watch.
Allan’s philosophy in life and the message of the story is “Things are what they are and whatever will be will be”. There is no deep exploration of the meaning of life, rather just an acceptance of taking life as it comes, making both the book and film very easy to absorb. As is the case with most film adaptations, it’s probably best to read the book before you see the film but both are equally endearing and entertaining.
‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man’ is on general release in UK cinemas from 4th July. Many thanks to Hesperus Press for the invitation to the screening.