To say that Swiss Army Man is unlike any other film you’ve seen, or are likely to see in quite some time, is perhaps the biggest understatement of the year. Having taken on the unofficial title of ‘That Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse Movie’ since being first showcased in Sundance, it is every bit as bizarre and as bewildering as that concept suggests. Surprisingly, though, there is much more to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s debut feature than the toilet humour it has become famous for.
The film’s already-infamous sequence happens early on, as we’re introduced to Paul Dano’s Hank. Stranded on a desert island, we meet the bedraggled castaway as he is literally at the end of his rope, attempting to kill himself, having given up on being rescued. But before he can go through with his own murder, he spots a corpse that has been washed up on the shore and quickly discovers that the cadaver is full of intestinal gas. Or farts. Realising the gas can be used as propulsion off of the island, Hank quickly jumps on board the corpse and begins to use him as a jet-ski to escape his predicament and find new land. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Yes, it is as strange as it sounds. And yes, it is laugh-out-loud hilarious to watch.
Considering the above takes place within the film’s opening ten-minutes, it’s barely scratching the surface of the wonderfully weird that resides within. In fact, as the plot progresses and Hank discovers that the corpse has come back to life, things continue to get more and more odd. When Hank finds out that his new friend, Manny, has special abilities akin to that of a swiss army knife, there are plenty of gags about passing gas, masturbation and erections that may read as quite vulgar on paper, but end up being genuinely funny in their execution.
Whilst the fart joke is one that’s difficult to get right, Kwan and Scheinert (simply billed here as Daniels) manage to succeed in creating consistent laughs through the sheer ridiculousness of the conceit. Helping bring the laughs to life (pun intended) are the truly remarkable central performances from Radcliffe and Dano, whose chemistry is the biggest highlight of the whole film.
Radcliffe, who we last saw as an undercover officer pretending to be a neo-nazi in Imperium, continues to push the boundaries with his challenging roles that prove there’s more to the actor than ‘the boy who lived’. Here, there’s a tremendous amount of physicality to his character, which is seemingly pulled off with ease by Radcliffe who, with one eye constantly bigger than the other and a loose-limbed floppiness, looks more like Igor in this than he did in Victor Frankenstein. But whereas Daniel Radcliffe is sure to get a lot of attention for his turn as a corpse, it is in Paul Dano that the film finds its best performance; one that is always changing as the plot unfolds and one filled with complex subtly. While Radcliffe’s performance is essentially all about the physical, it is up to Dano, perhaps one of our generation’s most underrated actors, to provide the substance.
The fact that there’s any substance at all is a shock, but the ‘Daniels’ manage to find a poignancy within the idea, and a charming sweetness amongst all the decaying skin and farts. As well as boasting some of the best lines of the year – “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, then you don’t know shit” – the screenplay does a wonderful job of making you invest in the friendship between the oddest of odd-couples, and the fact that it is layered with questions about life and asks if we are really alive if we are too afraid to be who we are, makes the end result all the more rewarding.
When you add to the mix some stunning cinematography from Larkin Seiple, a memorable score from Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, and a general creative inventiveness from the writer and directors, Swiss Army Man is a very special kind of film, despite some of its more challenging moments and unsuccessful attempts in creating some kind of twist – I think even the filmmakers were confused with what was going on by the very end.
It’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Sarah, who best sums it up with the final line of the film. “What the fuck?” she asks with deadpan precision, vocalizing what I’m sure are the thoughts of everybody who manages to make it to the finale. Even now, long after the credits have rolled, I’m still scratching my head as to what Swiss Army Man is actually about and baffled by its absurdity – but in this instance, that’s only a good thing. If anything, the fact that it lingers with you is a testament to its quality and acts only as an excuse to revisit it further down the line. Even if it is only to try and make a bit more sense of it all.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com