"There's seven billion people in the world and you might be lucky enough to bump into the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with."
Otherwise known as ‘that farting corpse movie’, ‘Swiss Army Man’ is a film that will undoubtedly inspire a lot of discussion. From its premier at the Sundance Film Festival is prompted both walkouts and standing ovations. By the end of the festival it had taken home the coveted Directing Award for Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan who also wrote the film and are credited as simply ‘Daniels’. That credit alone should give you a small taste of what you are in for.
Stranded on a desert island a young man named Hank (Paul Dano) has his attempted suicide interrupted when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) is washed ashore. There is however something quite remarkable about this corpse, it can still talk.
‘Swiss Army Man’ is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Beyond all else it’s a gleeful example of what can happen when creative minds with no limitations, no boundaries and no perceived expectations are allowed to do exactly what they want. What The Daniels have created is an amalgamation of so many wondrous, bizarre and often poignant ideas that it is near impossible to summarise them in a written review. It can be seen simply as an exercise in eccentricity or a much deeper product that concerns itself with everything from the most mundane aspects of life to the broadest and most complex human emotions.
Indeed the heart of this film centres around a farting corpse but as The Daniels said in a recent interview “The first fart will make you laugh, the last one will make you cry”. I believe them, as the film is able to create a world of wonderful immaturity and existential beauty that I can’t help but be awe struck by it. The movie fluctuates in its emotional impact, levels of maturity and its tonal value yet still retains a brilliant sense of unison. Somehow with all these moving parts and varying aspects of imagination ‘Swiss Army Man’ is able to remain cohesive and structurally sound. That is partly due to how it is never trying to be anything else other than itself.
But that sense of unison is also due to the chemistry of its two leads that underpins the movie. The bond they form is one of intimacy, comedy and raw emotion that is established within their own little world that only they share. Both performances are fantastic but for very different reasons. Dano can not only project a great amount of emotional exposition either through his physical movements and discussions with the corpse but he is able to maintain a sense of sympathetic and unstable sensibilities throughout the course of the movie. It never makes you forget the more disturbing implications of hanging around with a talking corpse but nor does it let that shroud their unique friendship.
Radcliffe’s performance is of course a very different one but he is equally fantastic (if not even better) as the corpse nicknamed Manny. Firstly I think it’s brilliant that Radcliffe has chosen such an experimental and unique role off the back of his turn as the leading man of a mega franchise like ‘Harry Potter’. But secondly, I’m equally pleased at just how good he is here. There is a wonderful, flat curiosity to Manny as he tried to grasp how the world works, how human nature works and how the living work. But then there is the physicality of the role, with the subtlest of expressions and complete lack of independent movement that make his emotional turns even more infectious.
But the performances are only as strong as the script and the direction. The Daniels are able to use their striking and often surreal images and plot points with the emotion behind their script. Multiple scenes are highly stylised but as I have said before when your style works in perfect synchronicity with your substance then it can elevate it to unprecedented levels. The visuals are so innovative and stunning that it is hard to believe it was made for just $3 million.
What is even more incredible is that despite being so bizarre and dissimilar the everything else in cinemas before, now and until the end of time, is how ‘Swiss Army Man’ never feels pretentious or self-important. It is content to be what it is and as a result it can be as intelligent and as stupid as it wants to be, as poignant and as immature as it wishes, as stylised and as truthful as a movie can be. It is a movie that has such a brilliant clarity of vision behind it yet also leaves itself open to multiple interpretations, you take from it what you bring to it.
Love it or hate it, ‘Swiss Army Man’ is definitely unlike anything you have ever seen.