Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead | Written and Directed by Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
How do you write a movie about a farting corpse that leads a man home by a certain part of his anatomy? The answer to that is to watch Swiss Army Man and look beyond what you are seeing, then when that fails just go with wherever the film takes you.
When Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself lost in a deserted island, he gives up hope ready to kill himself. When Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a dead body drifts onto the beach just in time to save him. Using Manny’s farts, Hank is able to ride the corpse back to the mainland, and is slowly led to civilisation by his new friend or to be more exact, his body.
It can be hard to follow Swiss Army Man if you take it too seriously, but once the slightly pretentious style of the piece finds its flow it becomes a buddy movie. We find Hank at a point in his life when he has tried to escape civilisation, to the point he is nearing suicide. Hank, an already dead person drags him back to it, and they kind of meet each other in the middle.
What becomes confusing is just what is happening inside Hank’s head, and what is happening for real. There are many times that it seems set in stone that this is all inside Hank’s mind and he is slowly pulling himself back to the reality of going home, and finding the women he left behind.
A problem I did have with Swiss Army Man is that it felt like it was going on too long, and there were perfect points to stop and let the audience have their feel-good moment. What we see instead though is poor Hank seamlessly showing the reality of his situation, and reality is not what the audience wants. They want to live the dream that Manny is real, that somehow, he did come to life.
Thankfully by the end of the movie we do get an end that is almost fitting to the end of the style. Interestingly though there is a moment that will let people argue that it is still all in Hank’s mind, and the ending that we get isn’t actually real. In the end though, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Swiss Army Man is a film that wants the audience to get what they want from it, not what the film is trying to provide. For review I have to take a rather critical approach to watching the film, and try to understand what I’m seeing. To try to force an understanding though is to lose what the film does best. Hank is a character who loses all contact with society and reality, and the rotting corpse that is Manny helps brings him back to it. If there is more to it (and there is) that is for you to make your own decision about it.
If you question where this film sits in terms of other movies about dead bodies, obviously, there are moments of Weekend at Bernie’s here, and Castaway. I also found some similarities to an episode of The Mighty Boosh, The Nightmare of Milky Joe in season two. The comparison between that episode and Swiss Army Man really puts into perspective the oddness of the movie, and that is not a bad thing at all.
There are some people who Swiss Army Man will have no impact on at all, it is as simple as that. For those who are receptive to this kind of film though they will love it, just as I did. There are many bittersweet moments that I would have preferred to not have seen, but after seeing the movie as a whole they make perfect sense. Offbeat and slightly warped, Swiss Army Man is a film that has to be seen.
Swiss Army Man is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.