Swiss Army Man (2016)
Written & Directed by Daniels
This is the film that had people walking out of its Sundance screening. This is the film about the farting corpse with superpowers. This is also a musical. If you’re still there, let’s go a little more in depth with very unique film.
Hank is stranded on a desert island about to hang himself when he glimpses a body washed up on the shore. Hank names the corpse Manny and discovers that his new friend has an array of superpowers, from using his farts to act as a jet-ski to becoming a human water fountain and more. The duo begin an odyssey to return to civilization and reclaim the love they think is there’s. And things get even stranger.
Swiss Army Man is a film that revels in its strangeness. It is filmed in a strange way and the plot doesn’t have much of an arc. However, it’s a film that I was completely engrossed in and felt ended so quickly. There’s no time wasted getting the conceit of the film going and so the pace moves you along nicely. A lot of credit goes to Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe who commit to the insane premise of the film. Their characters are so earnest and genuine that you quickly give in to how absurd this all is. The filmmakers also go all in on the magical corpse. I kept wondering how they would have a satisfactory conclusion to the picture and they managed to by not trying to shrug off the odd reality they set up. It’s an incredibly feel good movie, probably the most upbeat film I’ve enjoyed all year.
This film is very funny and it doesn’t try to pretend that its premise is anything but weird. Early on it let’s us go through the various bodily functions of Manny and laugh. But about halfway, there is a turn where we start to explore some deeper ideas, particularly about living empty lives. Manny has no memories of his life before death so Hank spends the majority of the film recreating the outside world. There were definitely traces of Michel Gondry the that mise en scene of Hank’s constructed world. Throughout the movie there are numerous nods to the fact that these characters are inside a movie. Hank describes the way a certain event would be shot if it were a dramatic scene in a film. The characters even begin humming or singing and this becomes the soundtrack of the film, a soundtrack that is hilariously descriptive of the action on screen.
I would say the film is about falling in love with yourself. If you’ve seen the trailers you may be led to believe it’s that tired old plot device of introverted guy can’t be with this girl he’s seen from a distance. While the film plays with that trope by the end it is most definitely not about finding another person to be your true love. There was a particular line that went (and I am paraphrasing from memory) “I just saw someone who was happy and wanted to be happy too” that could act as the theme of the picture.
There is definitely an argument to be made that the film is about a creepy lunatic stalker. Some of the concluding moments allude to that possibility and I’ve seen criticisms about this being a film about propping up deluded “nice” guys. I would argue in turn that if you pay attention to Hank’s arc you realize the film is not about that at all. However, I do appreciate that the directors chose to give realistic reactions to other characters when they discover what Hank has been doing. No one is ever charmed by his clearly insane behavior.
I was completely charmed by Swiss Army Man. The main draw to me was the very interesting aesthetics, the way slow motion was used to create anticipation. There’s a lot to read into about this film and I don’t think what we see on screen in the complete reality of what happened. It’s Hank’s reality, but there is a lot more to extrapolate from further viewings about what the objective reality might have been. Definitely a film experience you are unlikely to have again and worth seeing in the theater.
Next Monday: The Music Videos of Daniels!