Monday, July 11, 2016


As a wee-lad, this Blogger was always fascinated by his uncle’s Swiss Army Knife. It was the neatest little gadget with an answer to every problem, and was very much the type of tool that would be used by James Bond or Batman. In SWISS ARMY MAN, the directing team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known simply as Daniels), sets out to ask the question of what would happen if a human body were used as a multi-purpose, problem-solving tool. But it doesn’t stop there.

Hank (Paul Dano) has been stranded on a remote island with little food and water and is about to commit suicide when a farting corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on shore. The arrival saves Hank’s life, and in gratitude, he takes Manny on a trek to find home.

The concept of SWISS ARMY MAN feels like one of those ideas that a bunch of drunks would come up with during an all-night binge, only instead of the idea giving way to hangovers, this time they actually went out and filmed it. The film is a bizarre journey, as Hank uses the body of Manny as a tool to help him get back to civilization. Hank uses Manny’s teeth to cut rope, his head as a hammer, his mouth and lungs to collect and store drinking water, and his farts to light fires and to act as a propellant when he uses him as a jet-ski to cross a body of water. Not to mention Manny’s erect penis which acts as a compass to point towards civilization. It’s a bat-shit crazy road-trip story, and is packed with situations that have to be seen to be believed.

But not content to just gross and freak people out, Daniels takes things to a new level when Manny the farting corpse begins to speak and hold conversations with Hank. Whether or not it’s really happening or Hank is hallucinating from starvation is left up in the air (likely the latter), but it turns the bizarre nature of the film into a buddy-flick. The two bond as expected, but another level is reached as Hank is forced to explain what life is and what it means to be alive to Manny, who has no recollection of his former self. Things take an even deeper level when Hank begins to project his life onto Manny’s empty memories, and Hank’s miserable backstory is filled in one of the most brilliant methods put to screen. There’s a lot of metaphor being worked with here; having to literally face death to find life again, and the uniqueness of the situation gives it a new and fresh spin.

Daniels keeps the pacing brisk and the humor coming in doses, and there are many pop-culture references to keep movie-nerds smiling, plus even the dramatic moments have a feeling of lightness to them considering they involve a gassy dead body. Filmed mostly on beaches and dense woods, the cinematography is stunning, and the soundtrack composed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell is breathtaking.

Acting is superb. Paul Dano goes through every emotion that can be thought of, and his scenes where he role-plays to explain life to Manny are hilarious. Daniel Radcliffe turns in what would have to be the most talked-about performance in years as the corpse; having to remain (ahem) stiff and still convey a sense of emotion in a startling, and amazing way. Mary Elizabeth Winstead pops in as a love interest and is effecting in her limited screen-time.

The finale is a rousing one which leaves our characters in interesting places, and the reasoning for Manny’s, um…talents are sort of left out there. But it doesn’t matter, because the questions the film raises are more than just looking for explanations, as this is a film which deserves to be talked about on an existential level for years to come. This is a film about life and death, love and friendship, falling and rising…and it makes one of the most ridiculous concepts in years an effective and memorable storytelling tool. SWISS ARMY MAN, like any good friend, is a multi-purpose tool for those of us who have looked into the darkness and found light; meaning everyone.


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