Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Daniel Radcliffe     Paul Dano     Mary Elizabeth Winstead

          Swiss Army Man:  a truly bizarre film made up of idiosyncratic fantasies many of which, even so, seem familiar.  Opening the story is Hank (Dano) on a deserted beach trying to hang himself, when he looks up to see a body washed up from the sea.  He almost strangles himself getting down to see about the man (which is actually a preview of his woeful survival skills in general) and is horrified to find the young man (Radcliffe) is already dead. 
          Hank drags the body up to his campsite, sheltering in a cave when it rains and mulling over what he should do.  As time passes and his sense of isolation deepens, he starts talking to the body, voicing many of his fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams.  You’d think he was in a therapist’s office.  Perhaps, just like in a therapist’s office when the patient projects his fantasies onto the therapist, which become a reality of their own, what we see may be Hank’s fantasies or some kind of magical phenomenon wherein the dead regain life; because at one point, the body stirs, convulses, and finally, apparently, talks.  (I say perhaps, because it’s not necessarily clear what the writers/directors—Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert—have in mind—simply psychological projections or some kind of magical phenomenon where the dead regain life.  I’m thinking the former.)
        At any rate, Manny—we learn his name when he talks—becomes a “tool” (hence, Swiss Army Man?) for Hank to use either to overcome his weaknesses and/or lead him back to life and civilization. But more concretely, he uses Manny's stiff body as a tool as well.
         The conversations between Hank and Manny deal with fundamental, practical things like riding a bus, emotional expressions, and how to get girls, but at times they take on a more philosophical/psychological tone when the two discuss sex, death, social conformity and acceptability, and the meaning of life.  This was much more interesting to me than the boyish humor about farts, which went on far too long in the beginning.
          Probably the most delightful sequence is in the middle of the film when Hank “dresses up” in found items on the beach and constructs vehicles, etc., out of them.  Then the two do roleplay that evinces the social life that Hank always dreamed of having but could never achieve.  Much of the success of these scenes certainly belong to the actors, but production design (Jason Kisvarday), art direction (David Duarte) and set decoration (Kelsi Ephraim) should be credited as well.  Their imaginative creations are so delightful I was glad they appeared again at the very end of the film.
          The music by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell is just as incredible.  It is lyrical and perfectly apt for what is going on in every scene.  Much of the score is without instruments; instead, Hull and McDowell used their voices in creating all kinds of sounds and making it seem like the songs are coming from the characters.

       Swiss Army Man is not for everyone; it includes standard jokes that typically evoke laughs and focuses on things most people consider gross.  However, it is more than that in its portrayal of people who don’t really fit in, are highly creative, and are often rejected by society.  (Hank has obviously been brought up to hold in higher esteem what is socially expected over creativity and joie de vivre.)  These are serious points that shouldn’t be ignored.
     Like Judd Apatow and sex, the writers/directors “Daniels” have a penchant for highlighting as many of the, typically considered gross, bodily functions as they can; e.g., farting (of course), defecation, and vomiting.  And they pull in masturbation and sex in general as well.  But they are fine artists who have points to make about human psychology and social constrictions.  My wish is that reviewers would focus more on the latter than the former. 

Go beyond the farts, and appreciate the art and social commentary of this film.

Grade:  A                        By Donna R. Copeland

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