It’s often bizarre to me that we live in a day and age where so much of the cinema we consume deals in the fantastical yet so much of it rarely evokes the feelings that should go along with that. In various films we see superior beings fly and zoom around effortlessly and cities and worlds torn asunder but so little of it is moving or inspires any true sense of awe or wonder. There used to be a time where movies themselves felt truly magical. That feeling that what you were seeing on the big screen could never actually happen but here it is playing out right before your eyes. It had been so long since I felt that true sense of wonder and then along came a little film about a farting corpse named Swiss Army Man to remind me not only of the magic a movie can bring but also the way it can cut right to the core of you and leave you walking out a better person for the experience.
That’s right. The farting corpse movie may just be one of the most touching and rewarding cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Stay with me.
The film opens with Hank (Paul Dano) in the process of hanging himself on what looks to be a deserted island. Just before bringing his makeshift gallows to fruition, Hank notices something that has rolled in from the surf; another human. Hank frees himself (barely) and makes his way over to this new stranded person, only to discover this washed up man in a suit (Daniel Radcliffe) is very much dead. As Hank dwells on what seems another stroke of bad fortune, he begins to wax poetic on his entire situation. Before he’s able to really dig deep, his new dead pal rips a heinous fart making for a legitimately hilarious moment in what could have easily dipped into melodrama. It’s not long before Hank notices the continued farts coming from his new found companion are causing the body to head back to the water and even keep it going. Hank seizes the moment and rides this farting corpse away from his desolation in hopes of finding the life he left behind.
It’s not long before Hank realizes his new flatulent pal has many other skills aside from cutting clear through the ocean on gas propulsion alone. He can produce water from his mouth, karate chop trees in half, propel objects from his mouth, trim beards with his tongue and most importantly, he can talk. He even names himself Manny. Boy, does Manny love to talk. Almost as if being born again, Manny has questions about everything. He’s getting a second chance at life and he wants to know everything about it he possibly can. This not only provides the audience with a way to see Manny grow but also to piece together more and more about Hank. With each new lesson he teaches Manny, whether it be about trash or love or farts or masturbation, a little bit more of what makes up Hank comes through each time and we’re left with a portrait of an incredibly sad person that’s spent his whole life wanting a true connection with someone and it just never happened.
Of all the things about life that Hank teaches Manny, love is the one that shines the most. Hank is hoping that by reminding and recreating situations for Manny that it will spark some sort of memory of his past life and Manny has decided that he’s going to help Hank find his way back home. As they trek through the woods the pair begin creating scenarios and performing what if’s with each other and the bond between the pair grows and grows and blossoms into a true genuine love for one another.
I can’t say enough about the performances by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Both have obviously completely bought into the subject matter, which refects on the screen in the seeming fun they’re having as well as the fact that the film works at all. If either party wasn’t as game it would be quite evident on the screen. Dano does very layered work as Hank who, throughout the film, gets peeled back more and more revealing someone who is just so full of hurt and loneliness but through Manny has maybe opened up to happiness in a way that he’s never truly known. Radcliffe puts on an exceptional display as Manny, the farting corpse-of-all-trades. Much has been made of his post Harry Potter work and his possible inability to shake that but it never once even crossed my mind. There is a level of maturity and skill on display here that all of his previous work began to tap into but is truly allowed to shine here. For me, it’s his best work to date and has me even more excited for what he has coming next.
None of this would have been remotely possible without the mad brilliant genius that is the writing/directing duo known simply as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert). Much like many of modern cinemas most visually compelling directors, Daniels transitioned from the music video world where they have made quite a name for themselves, most notably the genuinely incredible video for “Turn Down For What”. Thanks partially to the success of that video, Daniels were able to start pursuing this mad dream of a film they had were able to bring it to it’s resoundingly successful life. There is a care and imagination that had to go into this film that only these two could have provided and I’m truly thankful to have lived in a time where they could bring such an absurd premise to gloriously beautiful life.
The other star of the film is the score. Unlike scores for other films, this one integrates itself into the film seamlessly and really becomes a whole other character in the film. Composed by Andy Hull and Robby McDowell of Manchester Orchestra, the score is very minimal and primal, as called for by Daniels. Since many of the songs end up sung by Hank or Manny along the way, Daniels asked for the instrumentation to be kept to voices and beats, things that could be replicated while stranded on an island or lost in the woods and man does it pay off to marvelous effect. It’s been a week since I first saw the film and I’m still humming the film’s primary tune every five minutes.
While watching my mind kept feeling reminded of another favorite film of mine and no it wasn’t Weekend at Bernie’s, as I’m sure many a clever person will certainly make allusions to. The film that I gravitated towards was another beloved 80’s classic, Short Circuit. In that film, a robot named Johnny-5 magically comes to life and not only learns all these great things about living, he also is given a few moments to weigh the cost of having life and being alive. With Swiss Army Man, Manny is used in the same way but on a much deeper and more profound level. As Manny becomes more and more aware of what life is, the good things often get overshadowed by the negative. What’s the point in being alive if there’s so many rules that we self impose and only really serve the purpose of alienating each other? Why should Manny want to remember a life where he was ever made to feel awkward or weird just because of bodily functions that we all have or for the way he feels about someone? So many of Manny’s insecurities are reflections of Hank’s own and, to be honest, they are specific enough that much of the audience is going to see and feel themselves reflected too. If you’ve ever felt in any way an outsider or a weirdo or just someone that’s terrified of making an actual human connection or you’ve felt so cynical that it’s never going to happen, this film was made for us. The extraordinary performances of Dano and Radcliffe make the material shine; the heartbreak as well as the hope. Life, despite its rule and flaws, is so absolutely worth living. We just needed a lovable dead guy to remind us of it.
It’s crazy to think that a movie about a deserted loner trying to kill himself befriending a dead guy that can’t stop farting and somehow made me relive some of my darkest hurts and most inspirational moments and reminded me what a true joy it is to be alive. That’s the kind of magic I was talking about. The ability for something beyond comprehension to not only take us away from a short while but to bring us back as better people. Swiss Army Man does that and so much more. With two terrific performances from Dano and Radcliffe, superb direction from Daniels and a seemingly effortless score that will have you humming the songs weeks later, this is a pure moment in modern cinema. Please see it as soon as you can and while you’re at it, quit holding in your farts.
Out of 5 Nerdskulls:
Story: 5 /Acting: 5 /Directing: 5 / Visuals: 5
Overall Score: 5 Nerdskulls
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