The experience of watching Swiss Army Man can be summed up by the last quote of the movie, “What the fuck?”
The movie that caused walkouts during its first screening at Sundance is pretty weird. However, a beautiful and well-soundtracked narrative drives its strangeness. The movie starts with garbage floating across the sea. Messages like “I’m so bored. I don’t want to die alone. Help me.” can be seen scribbled on juice boxes and a little boat made out of trash. Hank (Paul Dano), lost on a deserted island, is humming quietly while he adjusts the rope around his neck. But he sees someone (Daniel Radcliffe) wash ashore. Soon enough, Hank realizes the body is a flatulent corpse and returns to his suicidal start point. Before he gives the deadly step, the corpse farts its way into the sea. Hank runs while his joyous chants blend with the soundtrack. He mounts the corpse and uses his farts to propel him to safety. After, this first scene you know you have something special on your hands.
They arrive at an unknown location nearer to civilization. The corpse, later dub as Manny, starts reanimating itself through Hank’s singing and love stories. Manny keeps helping Hank by using his penis as a compass, his teeth as a knife, his arms as an ax, among other things. After all, he’s a multi-toolbox guy. In return, Hank teaches Manny what it means to be human. This tale comes from the directors’, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, dislike of farting jokes in a movie. The duo, also known as Daniels, wanted to make a film about a farting corpse but it had to be the most beautiful thing they could make and the most heartfelt. Throughout the film, they rarely miss the mark. It’s a beautifully shot movie, with superb editing, an organic soundtrack and outstanding performances from its lead actors. The moment when the movie falls short is the ending, which at times it’s too self-serving.
Swiss Army Man celebrates weirdness and being true to oneself. Farts and other bodily functions work beyond the obvious jokes. Some might argue that they are deeper metaphors of the human condition. The narrative centers on Manny’s question: “What is life?” The film reminds you of the basic feelings often lost in everyday life, like falling in love, riding the bus, or dancing with friends.
It even makes you rethink songs like “Cotton Eye Joe” which is used throughout the movie. It’s covered magnificently by Daniel Radcliffe and Manchester Orchestra for the bus scene. The slow paced cover adds a special heaviness to the actions. The soundtrack is unlike any other out there. Most of the time, the characters cue the music. Their singing blends with a capella harmonies created by Manchester Orchestra members, Andy Hull and Robert McDowell. The uniqueness of this soundtrack also comes from its references like the Jurassic Park theme song.
The film moves across different genres from a buddy comedy, romance, musical, to a survival movie. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but its significance is unmistakable, like the Guardian pointed out, “Its existence proves that singularly strange films can still get made.” Especially in today’s cinema landscape, where sequels, prequels, superheroes, and franchises dominate, originality is hard to come by.
This movie’s magic will stay with you for days. And you definitely enjoy it more the second time you watch it. I agree that Swiss Army Man is not for everyone but you shouldn’t miss it anyway. You’ll love it or hate it but you have to let yourself be impressed by it. Let this visual experiment make you ponder about life, how you approach it, how you love, what you keep in, basically how weird you are. Also, you can learn a thing or two about existence like Hank’s observation, “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.” There hasn’t been a consensus about this film. Some consider it an indie breakthrough, others a failed fart joke. You have to see it to make up your mind about it. However, everyone who has seen it can agree that after watching Swiss Army Man you are left wondering “What the fuck?”