We’re all a little angry. We’re all just a bit alone. We can all love. We can all be hurt. We all fart.
Swiss Army Man is a very digestible movie. For what its premise and borderline twee trailer moments promise, it is a film that wears its drowned and pulpy heart on its sleeve. Directed by “Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Swiss Army Man isn’t afraid to go to the deep abyss of the human psyche, hunting for our fears and broken moments. If this all sounds like pretentious Sundance fodder, you’d only be half correct. Swiss Army Man is sincere and isn’t afraid to mine our most uncomfortable moments for humor and joy.
Paul Dano plays Hank, a man seemingly marooned on an island and ready to give it all up when he spots a body having washed ashore. Hank is saved from his suicide attempt by this act of fate/God/spirit/etc and discovers this body has incredible powers. Not least of which is its ability to fart with great fervor which sends Hank riding atop the body across the ocean and to the mainland forest.
The body, Manny, is played by Daniel Radcliffe. That’s the hook of selling this movie. Come watch Harry Potter play a dead man and fart for an hour and a half. Well, if that got you in the seat, great. Swiss Army Man is entirely about that thing but doesn’t approach it with a wink or ridicule. During Hank and Manny’s journey to safety, Manny begins to feel what it was like to be alive. He sees a picture of a pretty girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on Hank’s phone and is immediately in love*. He learns about sex and dancing and vodka and friendship and betrayal. He wonders why Hank doesn’t want to act more like Manny does.
*So am I, Manny. So am I.
Spending time with Hank and Manny isn’t about survival in the truest sense. In a skewed universe, this film is the bizarro version of The Revenant. Instead of grotesque manly gruffness, Swiss Army Man trades in breaking down your own mental and emotional walls to free your spirit. The Daniels have a lot to say about society and the ways in which we safeguard our vanity so that we aren’t subjected to hurt or embarrassment. The curated life of social media is directly in the crosshairs here as Hank is a man who wants nothing more than to fit in and disappear into the crowd of acceptable people. The Daniels want to tell us that just because he isn’t able to do that doesn’t mean he can’t still fit into the larger puzzle. Have you ever been broken-up with? Have you ever not said ‘Hi’ to the person you so desperately want to reach out to? Do you ever feel like a disappointment? Welcome to Pain Ground Zero.
Blending the absurdity of the ideas on screen are some truly moving and breathtaking images that blur the lines between reality and supernatural. This all works because the abilities are derived from character moments and emotional beats. We’re introduced to Hank having created ingenious and funny ships and items to send out to sea, calling for help. The first time we hear him, he’s humming the tune to a song he doesn’t know the words for. So what does the movie do? It allows Hank to make the things he’s missing and create the words to his song. It’s a gorgeous touch that allows us to believe in some of the truly wackadoo moments that take place.
Because this movie can be seriously wackadoo. Taken out of context, the idea of a dead man chopping down trees with his judo-chop arm and puking drinkable water are ludicrous. Some of the truest magic of the film is that the thought of this magic not being a metaphor and truly existing never seems too far out of reach.
Swiss Army Man embraces the uncomfortable, dirty, ugly nature of human life. We aren’t wrapped up in branded linens and carved from cybernetic marble. We all shit ourselves when we die and that ridiculous fate is unavoidable. Swiss Army Man finds the beauty in that and I love it.
Also, Daniel Radcliffe, Best Supporting Actor Oscar, 2016. Seriously.