“Swiss Army Man” is one of those rare gems where you will never find yourself saying: “Oh, not this again.” You won’t find genre tropes and cliches in the midst of this coming of age film of a Frankenstein monster. It’s something where you can find the breadcrumbs to the train of thought that helped these former music video directors turned filmmakers’ craft something as genuinely intertwined with an amalgamation of imagination as “Swiss Army Man.”
It stems from the minds of Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (billed as the Daniels Brothers), a film that opens with a soft humming from our main character, Hank (Paul Dano), who find himself stranded on a small island in the midst of the Pacific. We see that he’s reached his limit and has fashioned a noose to hang himself from, as he hums himself with a comfort level of confidence to commit himself to suicide, he notices a corpse has washed up on the shore. He begins to walk, seemingly forgetful of the knot around his throat. Luckily, the makeshift loop snaps and he finds himself acquainted with a corpse that is presumed dead, until we hear a rumbling of noise travel from his chest to his rectum, letting out a loud roar of gas.
Humorously awkward, these farts become a tool of sorts that inspires Hank (Paul Dano) to makeshift this body into a jet-engine speedboat to sail him off the island. The expenditure of gas powers them through the crashing waves of the open seas until Hank (Paul Dano) pulls back to hard on the reigns, and finds himself lost in the open waters. Washed to the shore, Hank (Paul Dano) awakes on an island front but finds the edge of civilization surrounding him with tall trees and a beautiful rainforest that soon becomes his hiking grounds in which he carries this carcass through the trails of the forest.
The imagery is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker and Yoda, and the same teachings follow as we and Hank (Paul Dano) learn that this cadaver has found his voice. Speaking softly as Daniel Radcliffe comes to life, and this zombie-like figure turns out to be a long lost swisstool of a man that has forgotten how the world works. Dubbed with the name of “Manny” by Hank (Paul Dano), we watch the simplified teachings of what is life itself, why we throw away our trash, how we make simplicity complicated through social constructs, and how the hidden meaning of it all can become buried by our self-enforced fallacies.
Yes, it's a farting corpse who can snap fire out of his fingers and shoot objects from his throat like a machine gun, but the Daniel brothers make that enigmatic aspect feel inherently believable and genuine to the reality of the world around us. The Daniels showcase a malleable formulation of clay that is continuously remolding itself from an ingenious overt comedy to a psychologically inducing drama and then a rugged survival thriller involving a bear attack. It’s inventive throughout its ninety-seven-minute runtime, consistently subverting expectations while remaining slightly familiar enough to resonate with the two-person journey were lead upon.
There is a multitude of inferences of messages you enforce upon the story written by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, from the evident brother duo relationship in which our older brother, Hank (Paul Dano), is teaching the younger brother, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), the intricacies of the world in which they reside. The coming of age heart that feels essential to the core of this movie in which we’re watching Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) pull himself from the wasteful land of the world back to the brightful array of life in ways that are both biological and emotionally constructive.
Eventually summarized into how we have forced an extraordinary world to become so mundanely expectational, choosing to construct social irregularities as things that we naturally secrete like that of our sexual relationships or farting itself. Almost becoming embarrassed of our biological features, “Swiss Army Man” provides a meta-like outlook that feels like the hipsterish version of “2001” or a coaxing perspective of philosophical theories.
The Daniels manifest something as brilliant as a dreamlike setting that looks handknitted to perfection. Even constructing a mirrored image of the real-world with forest tools, the Daniels and their cinematographer Larkin Seiple formulate a film that maintains a dream-like essence that is snappy with it's editing and breaks out into music video like montages of style that is euphorically joyous to watch. It’s an engulfing adventure that swoops you in with it's acapellic dramatic swoops of music that becomes apart of the dialogue between Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), and even becomes influenced by the characters themselves.
It’s a continuous molding of relentless imagination and nuanced storytelling that is led by Paul Dano and Radcliffe’s storming performances that will most certainly go unacknowledged by most award circuits, but the sheer charisma cannot go unmentioned. Gapingly charismatic, feeding off each others energy to produce a tandem that machetes its way through the self-made barriers of audience members who refuse to jump into the ridiculousness of it all.
“Swiss Army Man” is an endearing journey that is inherently ridiculous, yet remains consistently supple throughout its hypnotical sequences of idiosyncratic craftsmanship from two of film’s most whimsically fresh voices. It’s that kind of movie that is sure to split friends between opinions, likely to be described as an artful classic, an aggressive misfire, and a terrible dumpster fire of a movie where ideas are thrown at a screenplay with relentless aggression.
I reside in the community of believers who fall for the arrogant charm of a film in which a farting corpse has taught me life lessons through the absurdity and laboring love of a movie that refuses to apologize for its silliness, count me in for whatever these inventive chefs cook up next.