Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Written by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Length: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Genre: Adventure, comedy, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.”
While trying to commit suicide after being stranded on an island, Hank (Paul Dano) sees someone wash up on shore and believes himself to be saved. However, it is just a dead body, which Hank laments before realizing it has so much gas built up inside that he is able to ride it like a jet ski. Hank decides to bring the body along with him and soon finds it useful for retaining water. While drinking from the body, it begins to speak and says its name is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Hank and Manny continue into the forest while trying to regain Manny’s memories from life in order to find out what happened to him. Along the way, Hank is able to use Manny as a sort of rigor-mortis-utility-knife; his gas can light fires, his teeth can be used to cut rope and as a razor, he can shoot projectiles at incredible speed, and his erection works a sort of compass toward home. The pair travel and bond in the woods, ever walking toward the real world and the hope of love from Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who Manny believes he knew in his past life.
Soundtracks are often integral to the mood of a film, and Swiss Army Man (2016) wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without one. Created by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of the band Manchester Orchestra, the music is performed a capella throughout until Hank is around other people; then, synthesizers and more instrumentation come in. The only exception to this is the montage song in the middle of the film, though it is still primarily percussive. The melodies in the film came from a song that Manchester Orchestra’s singer wrote after being sent the script by the directors. They had worked together on the band’s music video for “Simple Math”, which lead the duo to create the soundtrack for the film. Another melody used throughout comes from the on and off tones of Hank’s cell phone. This all leads to the idea of Hank creating these songs in his head as he hallucinates in the woods; however, it is perception that is questioned and changes hands in the film.
For the first two acts of the film, we see events from Hank’s perspective, as is alluded to by the soundtrack and way the story is told. There is a reversal to Manny’s perspective during a pivotal plot point in the third act, and it shifts again to that of Sarah and the other people in society. Having gone on the journey with Manny and Hank, we know that what he builds is a little messed up, but we can see the reason he did it; with the reveal at the end, we see it through the eyes of outside observers and can see that disdain could be warranted. There are a lot of gross images in the movie, many having to do with bodily functions, and the people at the end of the film mimic the viewer’s response at the beginning.
The film juxtaposes profundity with profanity. Hank must use the resources around him, which happens to be an exceptionally gassy corpse that is pre-disposed toward farting in the middle of Hank’s monologues about hoping to see beautiful sights before dying. He finds a Bible in the woods and draws on it with animal poop in order to explain that everything poops to Manny. The movie is about the rules we have in society and how they try to shield us from the gritty reality of being human. We all poop, we all pass gas, but we hide it and act like we are something different. In addition to Hank having to explain society and culture to Manny’s childlike wonder, the action in the film is very cartoonish and surreal, which is a mark of the directors’ style.
I first heard about this movie after Manchester Orchestra posted the trailer back in 2015. I love just about anything Andy Hull has been involved in, so I knew I would be seeing the movie before I even watched the trailer. When people complain about movies these days, it is usually because it seems every other movie is a superhero flick or a reboot/remake; well, if you’re looking for an original premise, you can’t do much better than “man survives because of bloated corpse”. I think the movie works well because of how ridiculous it is; once you can get past Paul Dano (who is impeccable alongside Daniel Radcliffe) talking to a dead body and blatantly discussing masturbation, the idea of discussing heavier subjects and confronting them seems far less intimidating. This is not a movie for everyone, and that is perfectly fine; it isn’t meant to be. Swiss Army Man (2016) is much like that first sip of Manny-water (not a euphemism) that Hank drinks; it is initially jarring, and a bit disgusting, but it soon refreshes and nourishes the soul.
Verdict: 4 farting corpses out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Daniels, those who find farts funny, fans of Daniel Radcliffe, fans of Daniel Radcliffe’s butt, fans of Manchester Orchestra, fans of the “Turn Down for What” music video, and fans of independent film.
Not recommended for: Those opposed to flatulence, the easily offended, the easily grossed-out, the close-minded, or children.