Children's culture

Rubber Tarzan

Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (1947-)

By Christian Monggaard, film critic and reviewer at Information, 2006

A good friend

“There is always something you’re good at, it’s just a question of finding out what it is,” says crane driver Ole to Rubber Tarzan, who goes by the civil name of Ivan Olsen. Ivan is a little, melancholic boy with no friends, he doesn’t believe in himself or that he will ever be able to learn to ride a bicycle, read, play football or eject a jet of spittle, like all the other boys. 
Ivan’s dad, a passionate fan of Tarzan, thinks that Ivan is hopeless and gives him the nickname “Rubber Tarzan”. In school the stupid, big boys dip Ivan’s trousers in water every single day. His mother is always far too preoccupied with housework to notice that Ivan is unhappy. But then he meets Ole - the eternal optimist. Ole is himself a bit of a Rubber Tarzan and becomes Ivan’s good and faithful friend. 

Tolerance and bullying 

Rubber Tarzan has been called “the best children’s film in the world”. It has to be said that it is difficult to point to a Danish children’s picture which has had greater significance for so many generations of cinemagoers and which to such a high degree created a school for the Danish children’s movies of the 1980s and 1990s. 
Rubber Tarzan is an edifying tale. It sides with the underdog, the little, weak people in society - without being awkward or moralising, but with humour and sympathetic insight. The film deals with bullying and tolerance, while administering at the same time severe criticism to self-centred parents who fail to look properly after their children. 

Magic realism 

With the filming of Ole Lund Kirkegaard’s books - e.g. Otto is a Rhino (Otto er et naesehorn) and Rubber Tarzan - so-called magic realism made its entry into Danish film in the 1980s. The stories take place in everyday environments full of children, confusion and stupid parents. Every now and again something unusual, magical happens which gives reality a fairytale touch. 
Soeren Kragh-Jacobsen has rearranged and revised Kirkegaard’s original story to anchor it more firmly in the world of reality. But the magical realism remains intact and can be used in an exciting way to cast unexpected light on some of life’s great questions. 

Alex Svanbjerg in Rubber Tarzan. Photo: John Johansen. Copyright: © Nordisk Film. 86 min. Manuscript: Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and Hans Hansen based on the children's book by Ole Lund Kierkegaard (1975). Manufacturer: Metronome.
The cover of Ole Lund Kierkegaard's Rubber Tarzan, graphic by Maria Lundén. Gyldendal.
Children's Culture

Did you know?

Source: Judith & Ulrich Breuning, Det Danske Filminstitut

Working as a movie actor is a secret dream for many. Rubber Tarzan - alias Alex Svanbjerg - however, got bored when the days on the film set were too long. He was lured with gifts and flattery, but just as much it helped. In the end they had to hire a stand-in, so when you see Gummi Tarzan from the back or at a long distance in the movie, it is not actually Alex Svanbjerg.

The Committee's justification

By the Committee for Film, 2006

Although the film adaptation of Ole Lund Kirkegaard’s popular children’s book from 1975 was a commission for Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, he and co-author Hans Hansen created the quintessential Danish children’s film, Rubber Tarzan.
The story of the eight-year-old Ivan Olsen, who gets picked on by the bullies in school, thinks that letters behave a bit too much like ants, and whose father is deeply fascinated by Tarzan. But Kragh-Jacobsen allowed himself to expand on the subject and replaced the more magical elements (the witch) with the more mundane (a crane driver) without losing the imagination that is a major part of a child’s world. The film is an adventure told in a realistic manner from the viewpoint of the boy, and with such good performances that adults like to watch it over and over again.

Peter Schrøder is terrific as the Tarzan-fixated father, who is in fact the rubber Tarzan, and Otto Brandenburg is unforgettable as the world’s most pleasant crane driver, with the film's wonderful morale: “There’s always something you’re good at, you just have to figure out what it is”. Kragh-Jacobsen had already demonstrated his ability to work with children in his debut, Wanna See My Beautiful Navel? (1978), but Rubber Tarzan is much more rounded and afforded him international recognition, including the UNICEF Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

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