"Swiss Army Man" came out of the Sundance Film Festival amid multiple walkouts, critically derided as Daniel Radcliffe's farting corpse movie. I am happy to report that is EXACTLY what the movie is (among about two dozen other things) and it earns every second of its scatologically-obsessed running time. There are poops, farts, boners, masturbation jokes and just about every juvenile idea under the sun in this film, along with beautiful and somewhat profound ruminations on isolation, depression, body shaming, death and love.
The premise: Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on a tiny desert island barely big enough for one man. He is in the process of hanging himself when Daniel Radcliffe's dead body washes onto shore. Hoping that Radcliffe is alive and he has someone to share the isolation with, Hank runs to the body and finds that Radcliffe is very much dead and farty. So farty in fact that Hank ties a rope around him and rides him like a jet ski to another beach much closer to a city.
Here is where the movie gets weird. (Because it wasn't up to this point...) During their first night on the new beach, Radcliffe's bloated and discolored corpse starts speaking and it is curious about the state it finds itself in. The corpse's name is Manny and is capable of helping Hank in many different ways, including storage of rainwater, lighting fires with his farts, chopping down trees and biting through rope. More importantly, Manny gives Hank a way to examine himself and his own relationship to humanity that he had never explored before.
Dano is the most likable he has been since "Little Miss Sunshine" and Radcliffe is astounding as Manny, who is like a child opening his eyes to the world for the first time. Watching him react through rigor mortis to everything Hank is teaching him is a beautiful and heartwarming experience.
The actors' chemistry makes "Swiss Army Man" more than Radcliffe's farting corpse movie; it makes it one of the best films of the year.
Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (aka The Daniels) bring a handmade aesthetic to the film that evokes the best of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Terry Gilliam. The Daniels fill each frame with either gorgeous compositions or spectacular performances, leaving the experience of watching "Swiss Army Man" a joyous one.
The script (also by The Daniels) packs so much metaphor into a bizarre and simple story as to laugh at an audience trying to unpack everything after one viewing. The obvious main question is whether Manny is a magical farting corpse with superpowers, or if Hank is hallucinating because of starvation and dehydration. Some answers are given, but so many more are left up to the imagination. There are dozens of ways to interpret the events in the film and it's not even a safe bet that multiple viewings would help shed light on any lingering questions.
"Swiss Army Man" is going to be divisive and the "general" movie-going public is going to hate the film for being too weird, in the same way they hated "The Lobster." Still, the film isn't just an alienating, weirdly childish exercise in bad taste—it's also a profoundly truthful look at loneliness that feels like a warm blanket made of doubt. It is the best thing Kurt Vonnegut never wrote, and is simultaneously a 90-minute fart joke.
Aren't we lucky to be alive?
Swiss Army Man
Dir. The Daniels
Now playing at Tin Pan Theater