SWISS army man
REVIEWED BY CLARE MARTIN
Swiss Army Man is base and crass and wonderful. It’s a movie about the fact that we’re all meat sacks walking around looking for some sort of love until we die, and when we die we shit ourselves. This film does not let you forget about the shitting yourself part. You’ll see more of Daniel Radcliffe’s hairy hole than Rupert Grint has.
At the beginning of the movie, scraps of juice boxes and other debris with ‘I’m so bored’ and ‘I don’t want to die alone’ scrawled across them float across the screen before we find Hank (Paul Dano). He’s ready to hang himself on a tiny deserted island, but when he spots a pale, farting corpse Hank changes his mind. It turns out the magically flatulent corpse, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has a name (Manny) and many talents (one of which is high-powered farts). The film starts with one of the most cinematically beautiful fart jokes, as Hank rides Manny like a jet ski across the water, propelled by gas.
Together Hank and Manny journey through the woods, attempting to find humanity. Hank slowly teaches Manny more about people along the way, because although the corpse can speak he’s forgotten all sense of social decorum. As Hank explains to Manny the norms around dating, masturbation, and riding the bus, you realize just how silly the rules that we live by are. These lessons feel obvious at times, but that does not make them less poignant. The poignancy to toilet joke ratio in this film is in fact pretty admirable. For every moment where Manny makes Hank question the rules of society, there is also a joke about Manny’s mystical, antennae-like erection.
Swiss Army Man takes the ordinary and makes it fantastic. It takes the fact that corpses defecate upon deceasing and transforms it into a magical power. The soundtrack, composed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell and sung in part by Radcliffe and Dano, adds to the ethereal nature of the film. As their voices echo and grow into an Animal Collective-like chorus, you can feel yourself lifting into the trees that surround Manny and Hank on their odyssey.
For a corpse, Manny is more charismatic than most characters in films. He’s like a way cooler, actually useful version of Wilson from Cast Away. Dano manages to make Hank’s melancholic social isolation endearing rather than grating, which would be an easy pitfall. There’s a surplus of films about men who are too afraid to talk to women and are estranged from their families. This one would have been boring and unimpressive if Dano wasn’t so damn charming.
And speaking of women – Mary Elizabeth Winstead, plays Sarah, the beautiful woman on a bus who Hank admires from afar. Winstead is a compelling actor in her own right, as she showed in 10 Cloverfield Lane. She’s given barely any screen time here unfortunately, serving more as a distant ideal like she did in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. This type of overused, vacuous trope of a shy guy lusting after the “perfect woman” would usually grind my gears, but a twist at the end of the film makes his crush more interesting than the usual type of pining.
If the idea of watching a film that has a plethora, a true buttload of fart jokes puts you off – then maybe this just isn’t for you. Let me just tell you that farts have never been more eye-opening or magical than they are in Swiss Army Man. Manny and Hank create their own fantasy world where a cadaver can be more useful than your smartphone and friendship perseveres despite the lack of a heartbeat. We are human – we fart, love, get lost, learn, and eventually die. And even then, we fart again.