Movie Review: Swiss Army Man

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A man lost in the wilderness who has given up hope regains his humanity after befriending a farting corpse.

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Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, 2016

When we first meet Hank (Paul Dano), he is in a small cave on a deserted island with a noose around his neck. About to give up hope, it’s then that he notices a dead body washed up on shore. Farting. When attempts to save the clearly dead man fail, Hank discovers he can use the corpse’s farts to propel himself through the water to safety. As Hank discovers more and more life-saving yet disgusting things the body can do, the body itself starts to come to life. Hank and his new friend Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) set off to take Hank back to civilisation and the object of his affections, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). However, the impending return to the real world and its social norms threatens Manny and his tenuous bond with Hank.

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I don’t want to give away too much about this movie, because it takes so many completely baffling, bizarre twists and tangents that to tell you too much about the story would ruin it, I feel. It’s definitely the weirdest movie that I have ever loved, and yet I sat there during the credits with hearts in my eyes for this stupid movie. It took a while to get there; the movie starts slow and very strange, and it takes a while to adjust to its peculiar rhythm. If you can handle it, though, Swiss Army Man is a really excellent example of the power of good filmmaking. Taking a premise this crazy and turning it into something great is such a challenge, but this film creates its own weird kind of magic. The way the music is made up of the music Hank hums or sings, the way that the strange things that happen are repeated until they become almost routine background noise, the way that it eases you into an idea and lulls you before each dramatic reveal; everything is so neatly structured that it feels perfectly natural. Paul Dano and especially Daniel Radcliffe are terrific in the lead roles. Individually they’re both good, but their chemistry really soars. Daniel Radcliffe brings surprising innocence and heart to his role as a dead guy.

The film could be tighter in the edit; there were definitely moments when I felt like it was lagging, and the return to civilisation is pretty abrupt and shifts the tone of the movie significantly. The laser focus on Hank and Manny mean that Sarah is desperately underdeveloped; she’s more of a cypher than a person, even when the end of the film tries to rectify this. There’s an element of Paper Towns in there; that perhaps in trying to make a point about how certain men treat certain women, you end up depicting the women that way within the text. There are different ways this film can be interpreted. It could be magical realism, or the weird fantasies of a very disturbed and disturbing man. Throughout the film, though, there are poignant observations on life, loneliness, and connection that really touch a nerve. Swiss Army Man is silly, and it’s disgusting, and it’s heartwarming, and it speaks to the human condition more than almost any film I’ve seen. All I’m saying is, if Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert can make a movie this compelling about a relationship with a farting corpse, then DC has no excuse for their execrable output. Filmmakers of the world, you’re on notice. No matter how ridiculous your premise, I expect the best work every time.

Swiss Army Man on IMDb

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