If you have seen any of the trailers, Swiss Army Man is as you’d expect it to be; bat crazy and very silly. But surprisingly, it is also quite touching and at times thoughtful. The jokes may be a bit juvenile but once you are swept into Hank’s (Paul Dano) broken mind, you don’t want to leave. You can’t help but laugh along with him. My advice is to be like Manny (Daniel Radcliffe): take leave of your senses and inhibitions and go see this movie.
The story of Swiss Army Man follows Hank, a runaway and a castaway. He has given up on ever getting home and is about to end it all when he spots a man on the shore. The opening of the movie shows his desperation in the messages he has scrawled on empty food containers, drifting in the water.
When Hank approaches the man on the shore, it is clear that he is dead, but then he farts repeatedly and as the film proceeds, Hank gives life to his new friend by teaching him about love and having fun.
This film begins as it means to go on; with silly fart jokes. Yet this is such a small part of what makes this motion picture funny. These jokes aren’t as childish as you might think. Manny, the corpse starts to talk and ask questions about life. That’s where the true comedy shines through. This is not just a comedy about a ‘magic’ corpse that doubles as a boat, compass and match. This is a story of a man who is truly lost both literally, and in his own mind. He is trying to root himself in something, so he can continue living. It is this bromance, with a little homoerotic subtext, that draws the audience in.
The soundtrack for this film is also fantastic and was recorded with actors Dano and Radcliffe providing harmonies. Radcliffe may have done Broadway but it is still surprising that a great bit of the story is told through song. In particular, the song ‘Montage’, although fairly simple in it’s lyrics, is great and really carries the story along. It tells us about how their “friendship is blossoming” and how they are “enjoying [each other’s] company”.
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe carry this movie on the idea of a friendship based on survival. It is often hard to imagine that a two character film could be held afloat, even with a fart powered man-boat. Yet this works because of the actors’ chemistry. They have both proven themselves to be swiss army men in their careers thus far but the emotional depth shown, even among the farting and erections, is compelling. The depth of this film shines particularly strong during a large tonal shift that makes the viewer feel their stomach has fallen out their rear end. The idea of the mind as being deeper and darker than the worst of reality is driven home. I feel the film asks the question whether insanity is justified when the person is happy. Why live in world where you’re not happy? As Manny says: “That’s so sad. That’s so sad. What are we even going back home for? It sounds like you’re not allowed to do anything back there.”
To be fair, this is not a film for everyone. Sundance walkouts, although exaggerated, show this. American box office figures were surprisingly good but it didn’t do too well this side of the Atlantic. There was less than a dozen seats filled in the screening I was in. In the UK it barely made back the $3 million budget. The UK also released another of Radcliffe’s independent films Imperium in the same week and this didn’t do much better. This surprised me as it was slightly more mainstream, being about a undercover FBI agent and based on a true story. This film, unfortunately, didn’t reach our shores at all.
I may also be not the best judge of Swiss Army Man as I think Radcliffe could sell my own blood back to me, bottled, and i’d still buy it. But if you enjoy the quirky, bromance films, or just want to see for yourself what all he buzz is about, Swiss Army Man is showing in The Lighthouse in Dublin for a limited time now.