Swiss Army Man

'Swiss Army Man' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 24, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Sheinert

Directed by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Sheinert

There are some movies that just simply take your breath away. Ones where you’ll remember what theater you saw it in, where you were sitting, how many people were in there with you when you experienced THIS movie. Swiss Army Man is that kind of movie. It’s not even really a movie, it’s a religious experience . . .

. . . for those who appreciate a good arthouse picture.

I say that not with the slightest bit of remorse but rather with an air of caution. There’s a caveat to enjoying what writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Sheinert (collectively known as ‘Daniels,’ the duo behind DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s 2013 hit music video ‘Turn Down For What’) have conjured here. I say that because the warning label should be clearly on display. When early word pegged their debut feature as the most surreal, offbeat adventure audiences are likely to ever experience it was hardly a hoax. Here is a narrative quite literally powered by flatulence and guided by erections. Absurdity. Madness. Despair. Love. Weird, sweet, de-sexified love.

Shifting the likes of Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry several feet closer to neutral on the Scale of Quirkiness, Swiss Army Man wastes no time as it opens with the striking image of a young man, Hank (Paul Dano), preparing to hang himself on a desolate island. Perched atop a small cooler with the fraying rope running to the top of the small cliff, he’s all but ready to commit to his decision when he suddenly spots a body (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on shore. It looks lifeless but Hank’s curiosity is piqued when he hears it farting. A lot.

Approaching the body with caution he notices, unsure if he’s hallucinating, that the gastric releases are only intensifying. He’s not hallucinating; this thing is literally sputtering to life like an old car. That’s when Hank discovers he can actually use this to his advantage, converting the bloated corpse into a kind of water vessel that will allow him to get back to the mainland. But it turns out methane-powered human jet-ski is only one of the ‘corpse”s many functions. He can also produce clean drinking water, and his seemingly jointless limbs come in handy for slicing and dicing things. He can also be used as a rocket and a grappling gun, and his erection functions as a compass, too — how fun!

Dismissing Swiss Army Man as little more than crass comedy is going to be too easy but that’s the same sword wielded by those who view the indie/arthouse crowd as nothing but hipsters. Or those who presumed everyone who went to see the Harry Potter movies were all bookworms. Despite frequent trips into puerile territory, this movie politely and perhaps all too quietly requests to be taken a little more seriously than the average Adam Sandler fudge pile. (In reality I’d compare this more to Rob Reiner’s timeless buddy-adventure Stand By Me.) Underpinning all this crudeness lies an aching despair to return to normalcy, to reconnect with what most of us would consider civilized society, to feel alive again after inexplicable bouts of being marooned delete you from existence.

The journey to get back home will be fairly easy in physical, practical terms given the endless supply of miracles “Manny” (as he apparently self-identifies) seems to provide. Even though he propelled them both back to shore with his ass, they’re still a far cry from home, and there are more complicated ideologies and dynamics to contend with as well. It doesn’t take long for Manny to question whether Hank is just using him for his own personal gain or if he actually cares about him, and for us to ponder just whether the two are fated for a really awkward fairytale ending, or something . . . darker.

Swiss Army Man is a movie in pain. Dialogue is sparse but it often delivers hard blows from which we take some time to recover. Conversation is often confronting and unnatural, yet it’s this entrenchment in brutal honesty that saves us from pretense. Primitive discussions about why people masturbate eventually find their place in the greater narrative. While conversations may start trending intellectual a little too prematurely for those who view proceedings as a more cut-and-dry buddy adventure, those conversations open up endless avenues for discussions of our own.

Hank is worried he’ll never have the confidence to make an impression on the woman he sees every day on the bus. Manny doesn’t understand why he is so pathetic, but then again, why would he? After all he’s just an undead, farting, bloated, water-logged dummy who washed up on shore, probably on accident. He once had a life too, but he can’t remember it. Presumably it too was filled with glorious tales of how he once masturbated.

As the adventure evolves we’re pulled further into a strikingly intimate world by a pair of mesmerizing performances. Dano is again in top form here but Radcliffe truly soars, creating a character for the ages. It doesn’t exactly announce itself as such, but Manny represents an achievement in acting and the Brit deserves to be considered in the discussion of best performances of the year. Never mind the fact Radcliffe had a stunt dummy doing most of the heavy lifting. The psychological and emotional components far outweigh the physical, and it’s in the quieter moments — around a campfire, up in a tree, face-down near a pile of animal feces — where we see a soul (and the occasional butt-cheek) exposed.

Dano is reliably weird, though his greatness is more expected as the actor continues defining his niche as an off-kilter, often unlikable enigma plagued by social outcastism. For his peculiar acting sensibilities Hank is, in a word, perfect. Much like this gloriously, obstinately, unabashedly strange little film. The farting corpse movie you’ll be telling your children all about years down the road.

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Recommendation: An absolute must-see movie! Thematically Swiss Army Man isn’t a movie you haven’t seen before, but in execution, I feel pretty confident saying you won’t find a thing like it this or any other year. It’s simply a marvel and a joy to watch unfold, offering up one of the finest performances of the year in Daniel Radcliffe, the poor lad who just can’t ever get away from having to make some comment on his latest role’s relation to his days in Hogwarts. This oddity, however, just might do the trick. For now. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.awardsdaily.com 

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41 thoughts on “Swiss Army Man

  1. Dude, I just finished writing about this. Goddamn, I am with you, this is the best of the year by far, Even Son of Saul seems inept compared to this. What a movie, wow, I need to see it again. And again!

    • I do too man. It is my favorite movie of all time. It’s well above The Dark Knight. Which is now somehow, my second favorite film.

      • I haven’t seen the Dark Knight. Heh, yeah, me and superheroes eh? *rolls eyes

        But yeah, this film is just unbelievably good…. I think it is up there with 2001 as my favourite movie ever. And I have you to thank, I’d never heard of this one and it probably would have slipped past me.

        Cheers mate!

    • It’s in my top five movies of all time. I loved it THAT much. That is going to over-sell it to a lot of people, this I understand, but as far as this little guy’s experience goes, this was a W-O-W. A positive #wow tag this time 😉 😀

    • I loved every bit of it, but particularly as Manny starts to become more cognizant. This is a screenplay that literally manages to clearly express the painfully awkward situation when we say exactly what’s on our minds. There’s an honesty and a vulnerability to Swiss Army Man that I think few movies have been brave enough to show before. It’s a great one

  2. I don’t think I’d compare it in the same category as Stand by Me despite it’s impressive use of nostalgia. I liked this movie, but I didn’t love it. The ending just didn’t move me the way I was hoping it would :\

    • I’m not really comparing the film to or lumping them both into the same category, although both fit the definition of a buddy adventure comedy. What I’m saying is that Swiss Army Man reminded me of it.

  3. Great review Tom. It sounds unique, and that is a missing element in most films today.

    Poor Daniel. He’s always been a more excellent actor outside Hogwarts than within, and yet he is always called on it.

    • Swiss Army Man delivers the uniqueness in spades. A lot of people I’m sure are going to despise it for that very reason. I’ll feel bad for those people. 😉

  4. Wow! Looks like I made a mistake. I had two opportunities to see this but it just sounded too absurd and I don’t care for either actors. Guess I need to make another trip to the cinema.

    • Keith this is quite possibly the weirdest thing you’ll ever see (outside of David Lynch and Terrence Malick, which is kind of a given I guess) but in my mind it was one of the most original and rewarding things I have sat through since starting up a blog. I have it pegged as the movie that all of 2016 has to beat. I absolutely freakin’ loved it.

  5. And I thought I’ve seen everything…when you start dehumanising a human corpse – that is the topic of some dissertation…Great review, but the movie is seriously disturbing.

    • Thanks man. I saw the movie as more incredibly rewarding than disturbing but there are certainly disturbing elements to it, you’re right.

  6. Yahoo! A stellar film! I am glad you liked it since I have been keen to watch it. Great review,
    Tom. Paul Dano has been super hot — I admire his films last year. Good for Daniel, too, to try and break the Harry Potter mold.

    • No doubt Paul Dano is worth talking about here but it’s really Daniel Radcliffe who goes above and beyond expectations. I had a line in there about comparing him to Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of uniqueness and memorability, but thought the comparison is maybe a tad heavy. I still think it’s one of the best bits of work I’ve seen from a young(ish) actor and man, I just can’t overstate how great this thing is. 😀

    • It really is a fun and deeply engaging adventure. I highly, highly recommend it and definitely based on the work put in by its intriguing cast. Daniel Radcliffe is really impressive

  7. I’ve long loved films with farting corpses in them, so I’ll be checking this out. Sounds very Sundance, but I’m intrigued by your review and the trailer.

    • It’s v-e-r-y Sundance but man, this just proves what I am missing out on each year that I fail to get tickets! Man, I can’t emphasize enough how much of an afterglow this film has had with me, it is simply the best thing I have seen this year, and yes it does have lots of commentary on farts and boners as well as jokes made at the expense of corpses. Something different from Independence Day, at least.

    • I hope you enjoy what you see Liam, it’s an odd but really amazing experience. I loved it, would definitely see again

    • The Lobster is a pretty fair comparison honestly; they are both extremely offbeat. This might have a few things on The Lobster; mainly the farts.

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