Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Daniel Kwan has created probably the most bizarre, mind-bending film I’ve seen in years with Swiss Army Man. It follows Hank (Paul Dano) who’s marooned alone on an island. That is until Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) comes along or should I say ‘washes up’ on the beach at the most opportune moment and whisks the two on a surreal journey.
It would be fair to say Hank is not in the best of mental states when we first meet him, which is pretty prophetic given the revelations to be had later. He is emaciated, depressed and on the verge of suicide. Stood on a paradisiacal beach, he slips his head into a handmade noose, tip toeing unsteadily on a box and humming unintelligibly away to himself.
Things look to be over before they even begin; that is until he spots the shape of a man (Daniel Radcliffe) on the beach ahead. In his excitement to rush out and meet the stranger, however, he inadvertently falls off the box and almost hangs himself. Thankfully for Hank the rope snaps under his weight. Upon reaching the man, it becomes abundantly clear that he’s long dead. His skin a pale bluish-white whilst his body is limp and lifeless.
To make matters worse, Hank causes the corpse to begin farting violently when he administers CPR. Seemingly repulsed by the continual farting, he dejectedly stalks away, before quickly returning, wrought with guilt, as the flatulent corpse begins washing back out. What follows is possibly the strangest scene that I have ever seen. Hank begins riding the corpse through the waves, using its farts as propulsion. There’s time for a few unnecessary close shots of bare cheeks before the propulsion seems to stops and he ends up under the waves.
When he awakes on another beach it’s perhaps forgivable then that he and the audience thought the whole thing was a dream or hallucination. A packet of cheese crisps tells Hank otherwise, though the rationale observer will still have their doubts, and sure enough the corpse is a short distance away. The two of them have managed to somehow make it back to the mainland, though the lack of signal on the dead mans phone makes it clear that he’s still far from society. The pair then go on an interesting journey together forming quite the budding, little friendship along the way. The corpse who later goes by the name of Manny, begins talking to Hank and showcasing a plethora of different talents that help them along the way. From a source of water and means of starting a fire to a GPS erection compass.
“Manny, I think your penis is guiding us home!” is definitely up there as one of the more memorable quotes in the film. Hank becomes a mentor like figure to the man-child corpse who’s thirst for knowledge is unquenchable; teaching him about societal norms, relationships, sex, masturbation, morality and everything in between. He even goes to the extremes of dressing in drag to appease Manny, who by this point is fixated on the girl in his phones wallpaper and seems to be mentally developing at a rate of knots. He appears desperate to remember her name with the hope that it’ll jolt memories of his life back and help lead them home.
It soon becomes apparent that Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl in the wallpaper and one of the main instigators of the aforementioned erection compass, is really the main driving point of the story. Despite all the absurdity of fart jokes, erections and other immature nonsense floating around on the surface of this film, there’s definitely a serious message being put forward by Kwan and Scheinert here.
The film is narrated by Hank and viewed solely from his perspective, which obviously given the nature of what’s happening throughout with the talking corpse and what not, would lend some validity to theories of it all being a hallucination. The true meaning of the film is deliberately left ambiguous, but it was pretty clear to me from the drag, playacting, inside the makeshift bus onwards that Hank was projecting an imaginary world. This view was only solidified when it became apparent he was hiding out in the woods behind the girls house. My initials thoughts were that he’d actually died in the suicide attempt and everything afterwards was a weird purgatory like world, but the ending fully turned me onto the schizophrenic, split personality disorder theory.
Daniel Radcliffe is the absolute star in a film that’s about as far from Hogwarts as you’re likely to get. It couldn’t have been easy playing a dead man for an entire film and the way he maintained control of his facial expressions, not to mention his body, even as it was contorted into all sorts of awkward shapes, was extremely impressive. Manny, rather strangely for a dead character, was also the more developed of the two leads. Effectively growing from a toddler in mental terms to an adolescent adult and Radcliffe absolutely excelled in portraying this evolution.
Paul Dano also delivered a strong performance as Hank; the lonely, troubled, socially awkward outsider who in his imaginary world at least is looking for a reason to live. It was enjoyable watching both Hank and Manny’s friendship grow as the film progressed and the two actors had bundles of chemistry.
Musically, the score was incredible. Hull and McDowell do a fantastic job of making it seem like the music is actually taking place within Hank and Manny’s minds. It features orchestral arrangements seamlessly blending in with the actors humming to different tunes throughout, including the Jurassic Park theme. I really enjoyed the score in this film and I’m very surprised it hasn’t received any Oscar recognition. It certainly deserves it.
I feel like this film would definitely divide opinion. Superficially, it’s got immature humour in spades, which has the potential to put a lot of people off, but if you give it a chance then it develops into an interesting story. It has the bromance buddy elements between the two leads and underneath is a more serious message about mental health, loneliness and the dangers of modern society’s indifference. Of course, given the highly ambiguous nature of the film, it’s very possible that someone else could watch it and have a completely different theory as to what’s going on. Which is why I have to recommend it.