Swiss Army Man, like the dead corpse at its center, serves a variety of purposes.
It’s a story about the wild things starvation and desperation can do to the brain, including the strange visions that play in one’s head while losing it. It’s a story about how a deranged stalker deals with the end of his life. It’s a story about how funny it would be if somebody’s farts could propel himself, like a jet ski, across the ocean, and how funny it would be if his erect dick were a compass.
I’ve made my choice what this movie is about to me, but you could walk away from it thinking something completely different. That’s the beauty of a movie like Swiss Army Man.
As Hank, Paul Dano gets yet another nutty role. He’s seemingly stranded on a desert island and at the end of his rope—literally. Just before killing himself, a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach … and starts farting. It starts farting a lot.
Hank is soon riding the corpse (dubbed Manny) across the ocean as its farts provide jet propulsion. Hank, thanks to the arrival of his new friend, decides suicide is a drag, and takes Manny along with him on a trek through the forest to find civilization. Manny eventually starts having conversations with Hank, and are both aided by Manny’s hard-ons, which act as a compass.
Yes: Manny’s dick is a compass.
Sound weird? It most assuredly is. But Swiss Army Man is also strangely beautiful, deeper and richer than most movies with this many farts in it. It can also be super-disturbing and sad.
The film also gets some high points for special effects. Hank discovers multiple uses for Manny: He’s a water dispenser, a rocket launcher—and more! All of these moments are delivered convincingly by directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who also wrote the script and get credit for one of cinema history’s most bizarre feature-directing debuts, right alongside David Lynch and his Eraserhead.
It’s also a keen observation on our current digital age, when advances in phone and camera technology have made it easier for people with problems to do stupid things in high definition. Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra provide one of the year’s best and most-triumphant musical scores.
Dano, who shined so brightly in last year’s Love and Mercy, continues to make the kinds of daring role choices Nicolas Cage used to make. (Let’s hope Dano doesn’t end up in any remakes of The Wicker Man or any Ghost Rider sequels.) He makes Hank very likable … or despicable, depending upon the way in which you take this movie. If you make a list of some of the more daring, eccentric films of the last 10 years (There Will Be Blood, Ruby Sparks, Looper, Where the Wild Things Are), you will often find Dano involved.
As for Radcliffe, this is an insane triumph. Other actors (most notably Terry Kiser in Weekend at Bernie’s) have played corpses being dragged around in a movie, but Radcliffe brings a dimension to corpse-acting that has, quite honestly, never been seen before. It’s a marvel of physical acting that, rather unconventionally, shows the actor finally transcending his Harry Potter reputation and doing something beyond notable. What he does here deserves some sort of special Oscar—perhaps the Academy Award for Playing Dead While Sort of Being Alive at Times and Delivering Massive Amounts of Body Humor in a Way That Is Somehow Moving in Addition to Being Kind of Gross Yet Awesome. They probably won’t create that category, but let’s just hand over that award in this here movie review. Daniel, you deserve it.
Swiss Army Man is destined for cult-classic status. It’s also destined to hold some sort of record for corpse-farting and corpse erections in a movie. While such things are mighty prominent, don’t let them distract you from the powerful story at the center: It’s a true mindbender.
Swiss Army Man is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).