Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is like Teflon. No matter what situation Allan finds himself in, he can slide out as easily as he slid in. He’s been doing it since day one, and on day 36,525, Allan slides right out the window and into one last grand adventure.
While Allan certainly has a great deal of good luck, he also has had plenty of help along the way, especially when his mother (Pernilla Göst) advised him to stop thinking, “Just like your father, always thinking for no good reason.” With that, she died, like her husband before her, and the newly orphaned Allan made up his mind then and there to stop thinking and just move through the world.
That absence of thought did Allan well. He navigated WWII, ruthless dictators like Franco (Koldo Losada) and Stalin (Algirdas Romualdas), helped Oppenheimer (Philip Rosch) designed the Bomb, used reverse psychology to convince Gorbachev (Sigitas Rackys) to bring down the Berlin Wall, ran secrets as a double agent during the Cold War and outlasted an entire biker gang led by Pim (Alan Ford, reprising his mob boss role from Snatch) without really lifting a finger. Not too shabby for a guy who decided to stop thinking at an early age.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared is a farcical comedy about how far one can get without really minding all that much. Adapted from a novel by Jonas Jonasson, screenwriters Felix Herngren and Hans Ingemansson (Herngren also directs) take the 100-Year-Old Man’s stories of past and present and tells them in tandem. The first, set in the present, is of Allan — played by Gustafsson in not-entirely convincing age make-up — accidentally inheriting a biker gang’s $50 million loot. The second, set in flashback, explores Allan’s backstory with Allan drolly providing the voice-over.
Allan, much like Forrest Gump and Zelig before him, always manages to find himself in the right place at the right time to impact history. These moments range from pure-happenstance — he inadvertently blows up a man urinating by the side of the road — to direct influence, he is the man who suggested that Oppenheimer use dynamite to detonate the atom bomb.
But Gump influenced history with an “aw shucks” positive impact. Allan’s impact is both positive and gravely destructive. And unlike Zelig, a man who tried to conform so badly that it eventually led to fascism, Allan remains independent throughout the entire process. Instead, The 100-Year-Old Man takes a much more balanced approach to this type of anonymous figure. Allan’s absence of thought not only allows him to see through difficult problems to an obvious solution, it also causes him to see no value in human life, barely shrugging as the body count increases.
Charlie Chaplin famously claimed that, “Life is a comedy in wide shot, a tragedy in close-up” and director Herngren smartly keeps the camera back and removed from the action. There is a great deal of humor in The 100-Year-Old Man, ranging from flat readings that Allan offers his life in flashback — “Well, you can’t agree on everything, but most people agree that a gulag is a real shithole. But it did lead to me meeting many new people.” — to more obvious slapstick moments — an elongated bit with Herbert Einstein (Albert Einstein’s impossibly stupid twin brother, played perfectly by David Shackleton) — both of which Herngren films with equal distance, allowing the audience to take in the staging and blocking and giving the humor maximum impact.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared offers much in the way laughs, little in the way of insight and is all the better for it. Allan is neither an admirable nor a despicable old man; he is just someone who has happened to survive long enough to see it all. He may not have learned anything in the process, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.