The film starts with a whimper, followed closely by a bang. So is our introduction to Allan Karlsson, a Swedish man preparing to turn one-hundred years old, who blows up a fox with dynamite for killing his cat. We soon learn of his love of explosives. He is promptly moved to a retirement home and responds by climbing out the window on his birthday. Allan is nowhere to be found and so begin his adventures, taking the first train out of town and unwittingly involving himself in financial gangster affairs. As he hits the road, Allan begins to relate his life story, which weaves in and out of major historical events of the 20th century while his narration frequently provides an ironic counterpoint to the visual depictions of these events.
Not long after discovering his love of explosives from a fairly young age, Allan turns out to be infertile. This infertility produces in him a strongly-hinted at but never directly-addressed sexual tension which finds relief in this love of explosives. This also results in Allan’s strong death-drive. He is a big risk taker and proves to have come closer to death far more often than he even knows. Through it all, he maintains a relatively indifferent disposition to massively life-altering events, always searching for new solutions to move on rather than merely giving up – even when he’s trapped in the gulag with Albert Einstein’s fictional brother. The film’s direction and cinematography prove more than capable throughout. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio is occasionally put to exceptionally good use as director of photography Göran Hallberg and director Felix Herngren continuously fill the frame with historical figures, luscious interiors, stark landscapes, and an elephant. A comedy, a road movie, a historical drama, a fictional biopic – The Hundred-Year-Old Man… has a bit of everything. The characters – both real and invented – are always colorful and interesting. They feel like real people with real lives which have merely been briefly interrupted for the duration of the film. Even characters without an explicit back story feel full and well-acted. The Hundred-Year-Old Man… plays out like a Swedish version of Forrest Gump, in the ways Allan unknowingly bumbles through major historical events – like solving the problem in the equation for the atom bomb – but unlike Forrest Gump, everything is contextualized on a global rather than national stage. The wider context and darker humor are somewhat reminiscent of such films from the Western Balkans as Emir Kusturica’s “When Father was Away on Business” as well as the political bat-shit zaniness of his later film “Underground.” The film also shares a strong cynicism with such movies, in turns similar to the dark humor of the Coen brothers’ work, yet The Hundred-Year-Old Man… is arguably far more humanistic than anything in the Coens’ filmography. The ‘centenarian,’ as he is so lovingly dubbed, possesses a childlike naivety which conveys the film’s overall stance toward human violence and conflict: it is silly, and it’s a waste, but it’s a part of life. Why anyone should ever put so much effort into conflict with other human beings instead of setting differences aside is seemingly beyond Allan’s realm of comprehension. Always engaging without losing its daring sense of self-assuredness to investigate dark territories, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a small triumph and a lot of fun.