Swiss Army Man, 2016.
Written and Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.
Not even five minutes into Swiss Army Man (the first feature film from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, recognized collectively as Daniels and most known for making visually conceptual music videos), Hank (a stranded man on an island attempting suicide played by Paul Dano) finds a rotting washed up corpse near a beach (Daniel Radcliffe), and uses the body’s constant gassy flatulence as a special power to jet-ski from one section of the island to another, that hopefully will have signs of civilization. It’s the initial promise that the movie will be a quirky, bizarre, weird, fun, and unforgettable experience. Most importantly, Swiss Army Man is one of the most genius, creative, and imaginative movies ever made.
It is a shame that quite a few people will read about the crudeness and vulgarity of the film and never watch it, or simply exit the auditorium after the first five minutes, for multiple reasons. Yes, fart jokes are about the lowest form of comedy and something more fitting for an Adam Sandler movie than an artistic independent drama comedy, but this situation is different considering that the farts actually serve a purpose and are essentially a superpower. That’s a sentence I never expected to type in my life, but such is the completely bonkers material found within this film.
That’s not even the beginning of the juvenile gross-out humor either, considering that not much further into the movie Hank begins using the dead body’s (referred to as Manny) erections as a compass to navigate his way home. Admittedly, it is crass, but a large portion of your mind is probably in denial if you can’t at least concede to applauding the creative nonsense proudly on display. By the way, Manny miraculously comes back to life as a talking corpse incapable of moving any of his body parts or even his face, transitioning the movie into a twistedly funny version of Castaway.
Furthermore, Daniel Radcliffe deserves, at the very least, an Oscar nomination for his incredible performance that severely limits his mobility, which is what he turns into his greatest strength to play along with all of the off-the-wall physical comedy. Even his innocent, caring, and curious voice all come together, bringing to life a whimsical character that will never be forgotten. Life after death isn’t so good for Manny’s memories, leaving him completely clueless on everything about life. Much of the film actually feels like Hank talking to a dead body that has the curiosity of a toddler, and an admirable desire for knowledge and to learn the most basic things of life; specifically speaking, a deeper understanding of love.
And that’s where Swiss Army Man really punches through the ceiling as a masterpiece; it is a profound exploration of friendship, self-worth, love, and possibly even depression. Without going into spoilers, the last emotion I expected to feel during the ending was a mixture of heartbreak and optimism . Hank is an incredibly complex character; he’s a joy to be around and watch interact with Manny, but what feels like depression and an unhealthy amount of self-loathing set him off on a path of overall weirdness and unsettling creepiness. There is something very horrifying about the fact that the inability to find the confidence to simply speak to a beautiful woman he sees on the train every day, could spiral his mental state into something dark and stalker-ish; it’s saddening because it is clear that he is a good person.
Most of the graphic sexual dialogue found within the film doesn’t feel like Daniels attempting to push the envelope on juvenile comedy or anything, but yet another layer of Hank’s personality and character. He seems to be communicating with Manny as a hallucinatory method to let out all of his bottled up emotions, which just like farts are not good to hold in. During some parts of the movie he even dresses up in drag and re-creates the bus, as a very awkward but hilarious attempt to live out a relationship with the woman he is so obviously obsessed with.
However you want to analyze Swiss Army Man, what’s most important to remember is that the movie is gut-bustingly funny and downright entertaining from beginning to the ending of its brisk 95 minute running time. It oozes cleverness as Hank continuously uses Manny as a multipurpose tool to find water, kill animals for food, navigate his way back home, and so much more that there is even a montage at one point showcasing just how much can be done. It’s truly astounding, but on top of all that, the dialogue is charming, complete with singing and an a cappella soundtrack that is a delight to the eardrums.
Credit also has to be given to the makeup department for making Daniel Radcliffe look simultaneously disgusting as a rotting corpse, but oddly beautiful to look at. The puke reminiscent water that emerges from his mouth as if he were a fountain, decayed matter all over his skin, and more all make for one transformative creation. Radcliffe turns the character into something unforgettable with a brilliant performance that is the best thing he’s ever done. Yes, even counting the Harry Potter franchise, although that will obviously always be his most popular and recognized work.
In a generation where originality is seemingly dead, Swiss Army Man is here to prove everyone wrong. It is one of the most unique and inventive experiences I have seen in the past decade across every form of entertainment. If you complain about Hollywood rebooting and remaking everything while dismissing even giving this movie a chance, then you are part of the problem. Just go see it, it’s one of the best movies ever made.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
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