SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) is a remarkable movie.
Any film that can have a corpse as one of its two main characters and still be taken seriously is really something extraordinary.
SWISS ARMY MAN opens with a young man named Hank (Paul Dano) about to hang himself on a deserted island. But just before he completes the deed, he spies a body of a man (Daniel Radcliffe) lying on the shore. Desperate for companionship, he is disillusioned to discover that the man is dead.
Just my luck!
But Hank suddenly hears strange noises rumbling from the corpse’s insides and figures they’re gasses built up within the body after death. These noises lead to extreme flatulence, which gives Hank the idea to use the body as a jet-ski and ride it off the island, which he does in a hilarious pre-credit sequence. It’s an extraordinarily lively and bizarre way to open a movie.
Hank and the corpse wash up on another shoreline belonging to a place that also seems deserted. Dejected once more and ready to end everything, Hank discovers that rain waters have collected inside the corpse and if he presses on the corpse’s chest, fresh water pours out which enables Hank to survive. Suddenly Hank realizes that there is something special about this body, which he names Manny.
He begins to talk to Manny, out of a desperate need for companionship, and to his astonishment, Manny begins to show signs of life and even begins talking, asking Hank questions about the meaning of life, since he can’t remember being alive. As Hank teaches the very innocent Manny about life, we learn firsthand Hank’s view on life, especially on loneliness, as we come to learn about the very sad and lonely life Hank had led.
To say that SWISS ARMY MAN is an odd movie is an understatement. It’s one of the strangest movies you’ll ever see. But more importantly, it’s also one of the more uplifting films you’ll ever see, in spite of all the flatulence and other weird occurences involving Manny’s body.
The main theme of this movie is a dead man coming back to life, and it’s not only referring to Manny. It’s referring to Hank, who spent his days before running away pretty much dead, and it’s now through his relationship with Manny that he’s coming back to life.
The performances in the movie are phenomenal.
Paul Dano is wonderful as Hank. He plays a young man whose life has been anything but rewarding. It seems all he’s ever wanted to do is connect with people, but he’s been a failure at it, which is why he ran away from it all, found himself on an island, and prepared to kill himself. When he meets Manny and begins to teach him about life, it’s clear that this is the first time he’s ever spoken to anyone else about these things.
And they talk about everything, from relationships, to masturbation, to erections, to overcoming shyness, and it’s all handled with incredible honesty and sensitivity. It’s an amazing script by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who also directed the film under the name “Daniels.” This is their feature film debut, after having done shorts and music videos, and it’s a very impressive debut at that.
Dano has appeared in a lot of movies, but is probably most remembered before this movie for his role in THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007). He’s every bit as good here.
And Daniel Radcliffe is pretty amazing as Manny the corpse. I don’t know if they give out Oscars for actors who play corpses, but it would be cool if Radcliffe received a nod for his performance here. Sure, Harry Potter fans probably prefer him in that series, but for me, this might be my favorire Daniel Radcliffe performance yet. You have to see it to believe it.
I thoroughly enjoyed SWISS ARMY MAN, up until the ending at least, which I thought dropped the ball in terms of how the story plays out.
Just how does one interpret a movie like SWISS ARMY MAN, in which a young man spends the entire film with a corpse that slowly comes back to life? One way, and it’s what I thought from the outset, is that the entire film is a hallucination. The film opens with Hank about to commit suicide. Certainly, all that followed could be imagined in his mind in the moments before his death. This meaning makes a lot of sense.
Of course, one can also take the film literally and accept that all that happens on screen, as ridiculous and outlandish as it all is, really happens! This is certainly another intepretation. I give this one less credence because to do this you really have to suspend disbelief.
The ending does little in the way of helping resolve these matters, which for me is the reason I wasn’t crazy about the conclusion to this one.
I would have preferred this one better had the true fate of Hank been more clearly revealed. I enjoyed the character, cared what happened to him, and wanted to know his fate. The film doesn’t really tell. One can make inferences based on what happens on screen, but writers/directors Daniels didn’t provide any solid clues as to how interpret the proceedings. My guess is they didn’t really know either.
Still, SWISS ARMY MAN is an incredibly uptlifting film, which sounds strange when you consider it’s a story about suicide, loneliness, and flatutlence. But somehow it all works.
It’s also a visual treat, as the antics between Hank and Manny, and how Hank uses Manny’s body in variouis ways to survive—like a Swiss Army Knife— are both cinematic and memorable.
Once experienced, SWISS ARMY MAN is not a movie that you will forget anytime soon, and that’s a good thing.