Swiss Army Man (2016): A Review

A lost man and a flatulent corpse, the “Okay buddy” movie of the year.



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

Hank Thompson, Swiss Army Man

Try to imagine; you’re approaching the C.E.O of a financing/production company as two relatively unheard of companion directors. Your asking for money to make a film with the following synopsis: Paul Dano, stranded on a desert island and on the brink of suicide, befriends the rotting corpse of Daniel Radcliffe who washes gently up nearby. After some unsuccessful CPR resulting in the built up intestinal gasses inside the cadaver being released to the point of over excess, the resulting flatulence of Radcliffe’s body propels Dano across the ocean on his way home. At this point the two embark on a bromantic search for happiness utilising the multipurpose, discoloured body of Radcliffe and his special powers in order to overcome the various obstacles of surviving the wilderness, along the way learning valuable life lessons and discovering the true meaning of friendship. swissarmyman_cms-638x425

Erm, with us so far? Good. Now imagine that the film actually gets made.

Luckily for Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively referred to as ‘Daniels’ and the minds behind the Lil Jon music video Turn Down For What), the C.E.O in question was Miranda Bailey of Cold Iron Pictures (The Oh in Ohio, 2006 and Diary of a Teenage Girl, 2015). The Sundance darlings if you will, known for the kind of kooky, heartfelt pictures that aim to connect on an entirely human level while offering a typically indie brand of brevity. Bizarrely, there probably couldn’t have been a better choice to realise this unusual collaborative vision, because as Swiss Army Man progresses and despite yourself, it’s very hard to not get drawn in by its oddball and disarming nature.

The film itself revels in the first fifteen minutes of utter alienation with the audience, Paul Dano’s Hank Thompson’s (Tom Hanks, as in Castaway, nicely done) near hopelessness and botched hanging notwithstanding, the setup to the main narrative is more or less one long fart gag, leaving you seriously questioning what it is you’re about to sit down to. It’s an introduction that requires you to totally suspend all disbelief and just roll with what you’re seeing, and it’s an exercise in trust that pays off.636027909091884755-swiss-army-man-sundance-review

After pulling down Radcliffe’s trousers and jet skiing him back to the shores of civilisation, the film starts to take build upon it’s intriguing premise. Dano carries the body that saved him around as he stumbles through the woods looking for help and home and talking to his new companion. Shockingly, the corpse, after a day or so of this, starts to talk back. Named ‘Manny’, it transpires that Radcliffe’s character, far from just being a farting corpse, is in fact a useful tool and friend, whose humanity returns to him with increased human contact. The more he interacts, the more human he becomes. Having no memory of his past life it falls to Dano to help him remember what home is and the world he’s left behind, using rudimentary diorama type figures made from detritus laying about in their makeshift forest home. He explains Netflix, riding the bus, love, and social etiquette to Manny, and some of the most genuinely laugh out loud moments come from these little misunderstandings that help bring the two together, one trying his best to rationalise the world in which he’s come from and the other trying to piece together the world from scratch. It culminates in lots of cute little meditations on what it means to love and live as a member of society but never loses sight of it’s surrealist setting:

H – “You can’t use your gas in front of other people.”

M – “What? Why Not?”

H – “Because it’s weird. People don’t like other people’s farts.”

M- “Is that why you don’t fart in front of me?”

H – “No, I just like to do it alone or hold it in. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

M – “That’s so sad, That’s so sad. What are we even going back for? It sounds like you’re not allowed to do anything there.”

Swiss Army Man speaks to that little part of people that questions the nature of social acceptability, and while the subtext is at points caked on a little, the film can’t help but seduce you with it’s peculiarity and wit.swiss-army-man-1-620x442

The soundtrack provided by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of the band Manchester Orchestra is one of the highlights of the film, as both characters half remember words to songs they sort of know and sing over the undercurrent music. There’s film references and montage sequence, all of which are almost too easy to lose yourself in. no spoilers when it comes to the kind of pop references included though, because they really do need to be watched in context for maximum effect.

While no doubt that this one is going to be divisive, at the very least the film manages to create the longest and most intelligent fart gag in cinematic history. For us though, it’s a warming tale that subverts expectations of taste and allows you to lose yourself in something genuinely original, humorous and well written. It’s a film that understands comic timing superbly, and following every moment of doubt you may have, the pay off is always just a few frames away. If we’re able to see a little more of exactly this kind of bold risk taking in mainstream cinema then, then I think we’d all be a little better off as audience members.

B+

For fans of both The Lobster and Where the Wild Things Are, a seemingly immature black comedy with a provocative and endearing message. A charming and truly inventive film that while not appealing to everyone will almost definitely achieve cult status, and with damn good reason.


– Max Colbert

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