Directed by Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
To quote Roy Batty, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”. I’ve seen Catherine Deneuve in a romantic relationship with an ape. I’ve seen a divine Geoffrey Rush pulling the sun around a flat Earth on a barge. I’ve seen a goat whispering the words of its demonic master, a boy pull a satellite from the sky, reality changing hallucinogenic trips, numerous cities destroyed, Napoleonic armies marching in the modern world, houses flying through space, and dragon dildos. All in one year. I tell you this, so that when I say that Swiss Army Man is the strangest film I have seen this year, you will have an understanding of exactly what that actually means.
Swiss Army Man is the strangest film that I have seen this year…
When a stranded man discovers a washed up corpse on a beach, he is saved from his isolation by the remarkable things that the body can do. As he struggles to survive in the wilderness and make his way back to civilisation, Hank (Paul Dano) forms a friendship with the maybe not as dead as he initially appears Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). From acting as a jet ski, powered by his rotting flatulence, to serving as a compass, thanks to his magnetic erection, Manny miraculously keeps Hank alive. In return Hank tries to teach Manny what it once meant to be alive, so that together they can return home.
This film is entirely gonzo, and absolutely wondrous for it. Behind this manic energy and craziness there is a soft and sentimental side that makes you re-examine the way you look at the everyday and your interaction with others. As Hank builds a world for Manny out of trash, he creates a fantasy reality for both of them to experience. Its inventive and magical, offering a bitter sweet insight into the soul of humanity. After all, behind the fart jokes and the dick humour, this is a soulfully uplifting examination of what it means to be alive.
You see Hank isn’t the most trustworthy of narrators, after all he’s having a conversation with a dead Harry Potter. Ultimately there is a touch of Inception about this film, and how you interpret it is dependent on what level of reality you wash up on. Is it a scatological farce with a corpse, a strange, bittersweet rediscovery of life, or something else? This is a film that will have you contemplating its meaning and questioning its intent, long after the credits roll – or just going with the flow and laughing at the ludicrous situations and solutions – or just walking out 20 minutes into the film in disgust.
But isn’t that what good cinema is about? It entertains, it challenges, it promotes thought and solicits an emotional response. Swiss Army Man certainly does all these things.
Radcliffe makes the most of this once in a lifetime role, bringing real character to the corpse. To act through limited movement and even facial expressions must be an exceptional challenge, but one he takes in his stride. Dano manages to bring the right blend of thoughtful, sweet and weird to Hank to keep audiences riveted to the adventures of this unlikely duo.
You will certainly see nothing else like Swiss Army Man this year (unless you have a fever dream after watching Castaway and Weekend At Bernie’s). Challenging, crazy and oddly beautiful all at once.