An art-house film about a farting corpse with a compass for a penis. It seems like an extended oxymoron, but the incredibly aptly titled Swiss Army Man is so much more than a movie filled with fart jokes. That isn’t to say that there is no crude humour, there is plenty of it. Especially during the first scene, where we see a man stranded on an island ready to hang himself, only to see (and hear) a farting corpse wash up on the shore. The juxtaposition of this against the situation is brilliant.
Let’s be real for a second; can you honestly say that you’ve never wanted to ride a human being across the ocean, with farting being the propellant? No? Perhaps that is just me, but that is a perfect example of the bizarre brand of humour to be found here. And the humour doesn’t become stale, much like the title, this is a multifaceted film. Yes, it is hilarious, but it is also filled with existentialist pondering that define the phrase thought provoking, as our two characters dream about the world they have become separated from.
One is a lonely man, the other a half-dead supernatural corpse. And that is the first theme apparent in the film: loneliness. Hank has run away only to find himself far worse off, while Manny, the strange talking corpse, is lonely in that he can’t remember what his life was like. He can’t understand emotion, or feelings, or what the human experience is at all. His innocence is that of a child, constantly asking Hank questions about life. His questions pierce Hank, triggering memories, as the questions are so honest and innocent, but at the same time they are extremely hard questions to answer. They seem obvious, but the answer is often hard to find, for Hank or the viewers.
Daniel Radcliffe is the true star of this strange film, giving a truly disturbing yet funny performance. It is never clear if Manny was dead for the entire film, or if his behaviour and innocence is an extended fantasy of a man gone mad, a reflection of his own insecurities and regrets. The film really dives deep into what it is to be a to be alive, as Manny is naive to humanity entirely, at one point asking Hank, “what is life?”
Regret plays a major role as we learn more about Hank, the man ready to hang himself at the beginning of the film. It is slowly revealed just why he decided to leave the civilised world, but there is also a ton of ambiguity, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. Paul Dano is terrific as this stranded and lonely man, delivering a performance that hits hard emotionally. We are never clear if he is sane or not, or rather how far into insanity he has slipped into after being alone for so long.
The bond that these two build is strong, as Hank does his best to stir some memories from Manny’s life. But the situation is so surreal, this bond could be interpreted in many different ways. Was any of the movie a hallucination of Hank’s? A depiction of how truly lost he is as a person? The two form a sort of brotherly bond as Hank tries to jog Manny’s memory. This could also be seen as a reflection of Hank’s lonlininess, his inability to truly share himself. Or it could be regret that he has never been so close to any person like this in his life.
This is indeed an adventure film like no other, and every person will take something different from it.
Despite the odd, crude premise this is one of the most human films ever made, as it addresses what it is to be alive, to form friendships. It is about your memories, both good and bad. For a film filled with fart jokes and other ‘potty’ humour, it is quite the accomplishment to create such an emotional film. It really is a movie like a Swiss Army Knife: incredibly varied in what it has to offer. It is funny, it is filled with notions about life and what it is to be human, it is at times a tense adventure film, and it has a wonderful soundtrack and some simple cinematography to capture the beautiful outdoors. This is easily one of the best films of this year so far and a second or even third viewing will yield even more results.
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