(Anyone remember My Buddy?)
Continuing what is turning out to be a delightful summer of indie film weirdness, we come to the inspired SWISS ARMY MAN.
After premiering at Sundance this year, SWISS ARMY MAN developed a reputation as the “Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse” film. Though this description is bit gruff, it is totally accurate. I’ll run though the plot quickly first.
Hank (Paul Dano) starts the film marooned on a tiny island, trying to kill himself. It is only when an actual dead body (Radcliffe) washes up on shore that he is distracted away from his wallowing in his own misery to investigate his new island-mate. After this corpse’s extreme farting turns the body into a jet ski, Hank is off on an adventure back to civilization.
As any emergency arises in Hank’s trek back to the living, the stiff—now nicknamed Manny—somehow provides for Hank whatever he needs most. Water. A compass. Fire. Is there anything this carcass can’t supply?
SWISS ARMY MAN never tries to explain this magic dead body’s powers. It simply presents them as a given fact, and the audience can choose to believe them or not. It never tries to present Manny as a figment of Hank’s imagination, or a symptom of a psychotic break. In this regard, Swiss Army Man asks a lot of its audience; you need to believe in the magic of the film.
The film’s beautiful visuals and whimsical A Capella score add to the fantastical tone of the film. Most of the running time puts Hank and Manny in the California redwood forest, wandering around the lush woods as if they are some sort of woodland creatures. They are able to lose themselves in their own world. It stays playful and light, even though Hank is working through some incredibly heavy emotional baggage.
From start to finish, I adored SWISS ARMY MAN. It is unlike any other film I’ve seen. It is incredibly inventive, but does not take time to celebrate itself or show its own ego. It also has extended fart and boner sequences, but never stoops to cheap toilet humor. Instead it tells the story of Hank and his adventures with his dead friend Manny. It gives the story the emotional dignity it deserves, not matter how preposterous that story may be.
With the utterly original storytelling, it is difficult to not be wholly engaged throughout the film. I honestly had no idea where the film was headed, from one scene to the next, which pulled me in to the story. I cared what happened to Hank and Manny, and I was also invested in their friendship too. This outlandish film had me caring for characters, not matter how odd their predicament.
SWISS ARMY MAN gets absurdity right. Like Hank uses Manny, the film uses its own ridiculousness as a way to evoke emotion. Not everyone will appreciate the oddity that is SWISS ARMY MAN, but everyone should at least give it a chance to work its magic.