Synopsis: A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home. (Source)
In a summer full of sequels, reboots and remakes, Swiss Army Man reminds us just how magical originality can be. Yes, this is the film with the farting corpse and no I’m not being facetious. Imagine Cast Away as the love child of Kurt Vonnegut and Lars von Trier, a film where shock and trickster irreverence give way to a painful, yet keen observation of human weakness and loneliness but also strength and imagination. Life’s fine line between insanity and inspiration becomes the the crux of directing duo Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) latest, an all-purpose tool of a film that sheds light on the things we take for granted and the outsiders we’d barely give the time of day. If you can dare to get on the film’s twisted level, you’ll find that it’s a wake up call for a somnambulist society, and the calling card of two directors who may be cinema’s modern saviors.
Hank (Paul Dano) has been stranded on a tiny island for sometime now. Lonely, bored and finally giving up, he decides to try and kill himself. After tying the noose however, a body washes ashore. Thinking he may have found a companion, he rushes over but alas, it’s a dead body sporting a blue suit, tie and post mortem flatulence. The body is far from useless however, with its gasses propelling itself into the ocean like a jetski and allowing Hank a ride back to the mainland. The end of their journey isn’t over however, and trapped in a dense forest far from civilization, the body springs into momentary lapses of autonomy, revealing itself as Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Sporting a myriad of utilitarian uses, Manny’s magical boner may have the power to guide Hank home. The pair strike up an odd but beautiful friendship and their adventure has just begun.
With a premise that’s just too good to be true, Daniels’ film is immense and nuanced, reeling us in with gross-out humor and then dropping an unexpected bomb with its touching portrait of human frailty and hope. Not a single thing is wasted, and in fact, the film is so many things at once, it’s maddening – buddy comedy, survivalist thriller, metaphor for human connection and a searing look at how each person hides and celebrates their brokenness. Exploring so much with so little, there are musical numbers, makeshift recreations of famous film scenes and tons of forest hijinks, all of which supplement the relationship between a castaway and his best friend, a singing corpse with seemingly magical powers. Mark my words, you’ve never seen this many fart or poop jokes in one place, but then again, excrement has never made you reexamine your existence quite like it does here. Through it all, there’s a layer of sadness that threatens to overwhelm, yet it’s battled at each step with the silver lining of its main characters’ blinding and unique friendship. Surreal but relatable, profane but heartwarming, Daniels’ wildly rapturous tale keeps us guessing all the way till that final, damning reveal, one you won’t see it coming as it deconstructs our innate desire for love, the flaws that destroy us from the inside out, and the dreams that make us want to keep living.
In spite of Daniels’ breathtaking execution and smart writing, Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe deliver two knockout performances, showing us brave sides to themselves we haven’t seen before. As Hank, Dano immerses us into his grief, a pale shell of a man who’s forgotten what it’s like to live and what it’s like to be loved. There’s a hollowness to him that’s painful, yet a hope that is inspiring through his ingenuity. As he transforms throughout, he encompasses the full range of human emotion and relates to us someone who is broken and at their wit’s end. As the film’s magical corpse, Radcliffe’s Manny is one of the most unique performances ever. You’ve never seen anything quite like him on screen, and he relishes in this watershed performance. He has most of the film’s laughs, but rightfully plays everything straight, somehow grounding the entire film while also being its most absurd element. For a dead guy, he displays so much warmth and you feel sad for him through his gradual awakening. We might never get another duo like these two, and the film thrives because of them.
Capping it all off, the film ends with both the most devastating and funniest thing you’ll see all year. There’s a final revelation that sends things over the edge and crystalizes the film’s madness, solidifying the genius of Daniels and their cinematic shenanigans. How a film can be this profound, hilariously demented and sad all at once is mystifying – you just need to experience it for yourself. If you’ve think you’ve seen it all, this film will prove you wrong. It’ll also make you rethink your pathetic life and inspire you to do better.