Swiss Army Man is a comedy-drama which oscillates between the poignant and the utterly ludicrous
The film opens with Hank (Paul Dano) shown on the verge of committing suicide after becoming stranded on a deserted island. Though he’s quickly distracted when he sees a man (Daniel Radcliffe) wash ashore, whom he attempts to resuscitate. The man is in a zombie-like state, neither dead nor alive, and as he proves to be highly flatulent, Hank finds he can ride the corpse, which he names Manny, like a gas-powered jet ski in the direction of civilisation.
And that’s only the opening sequence – with Swiss Army Man quickly becoming stranger and ruder.
In their feature-length debut, directors ‘Daniels’ a.k.a. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, create a narrative which crosses between Cast Away and Weekend At Bernie’s, though with a dark and often absurd twists. The film tackles the baser elements of human experience, but also explores themes surrounding the male psyche, touching upon the men’s bodily functions, insecurities and fears.
When the duo ends up on another isolated area, Manny proves to be a godsend, or as Hank puts it, a sort of “multipurpose tool man” who provides him with water, company and optimism.
While for his part, Hank explains the world to Manny, guiding him through everything from romantic love, to boners, to shame, to parental estrangement.
But at the heart of the narrative is a theme of loneliness, with it becoming clear Hank was just as isolated in the real world as he is on the island. As Manny becomes more real, and more alive – albeit in a sort of Frankenstein manner – Hank slips into the fantasy of recreating “normal” activities for him.
For instance, Hank re-creates for Manny what it’s like to ride a bus in one scene, complete with a landscape made from old magazine pages – a moment which imbues a sense of magic into an ordinary scenario.
And though it was nauseating to watch Hank carry a corpse around for the majority of the film, the last act became utterly compelling, mostly due to the involvement of its two actors.
Somehow Dano and Radcliffe manage to fully commit to their roles, and the Harry Potter actor does a brilliant job of conveying a lack of movement of a corpse, and has incredible control of his body and face as Hank contorts him into a manner of poses. While Dano imbues his performance with a sense of pathos, making it impossible not to rally for his cause, even though the viewer is never exposed to what exactly that might be. To say this film is not to everyone’s taste is putting it mildly. But if you can get past the gross jokes and talking corpses, the Daniels have undoubtedly managed to pull off something truly original.
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