If the thought of Daniel Radcliffe’s flatulent corpse being ridden like a high powered Jet Ski by Paul Dano sounds too outrageous, then the absurdist existential Swiss Army Man is not the film for you. Frankly it is only going to get weirder, much weirder, from there. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known as The Daniels, have constructed a debut film with such a singular and astonishing vision that they, much like Spike Jonze before them, could care less what the masses think. The first fifteen minutes alone feels like a litmus test for the audience. The juvenile humour is ramped up to not only establish the groundwork for things to come, but also to weed out those who might not have the fortitude to stick with Swiss Army Man’s offbeat ride through human existence.
The Daniels do not offer many answers for how Hank (Dano) found himself stranded on an isolated island, nor do they shed much light on what caused Manny’s (Radcliffe) demise. All that is known is that Manny’s corpse washes up on shore just as Hank gives up all hope of being rescued. Oddly compelled by the presence of Manny’s gas emitting body, and desperate for companionship of any form, Hank decides to carry Manny along as he tries to figure out a way to back to civilization.
Sharing his thoughts and fears with Manny’s lifeless body, Hank is shocked to discover that his new pal might not be dead after all. Slowly regaining the power to speak, and a host of other handy abilities, Manny proves to be quite a revelation. As if tasked with explaining the complex nature of humanity to an alien, Hank attempts to teach Manny the ways of the world while unexpectedly learning something about himself in the process.
One of the strangest and most original celebrations of life I have seen in years, Swiss Army Man is a film that is deceptive in both its design and construction. Similar to Kevin Smith’s Dogma, on the surface, the film can be viewed as nothing more than a series of penis and fart jokes. However, to dismiss it as such would be short-sighted. Furthermore, this type of rejection plays into the societal hang-ups that The Daniels are clearly rallying against. Just as Hank must learn to stop living in his head and let go, both mentally and physically, of his fear of judgement; the creative directing duo want us to do the same.
Treating Tarō Gomi Japanese children’s book Everyone Poops like the preferred gospels we should all follow, The Daniels bring a childlike sense of wonder to this imaginative tale. There is something magical about the visual splendor that comes with watching Manny and Hank construct their imaginary utopian society while isolated from the real world. It is there where they can work up the nerve to talk to the girl on the bus (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), without fear of rejection. The fascinating thing is that, aside from the fantastical elements like a grappling hook spitting human, The Daniels skillfully display that the type of beautiful world Hank and Manny crave already exists, but everyone is just too blinded by their individual insecurities and fears to see it. Life is indeed for the living, but we are not living it to the fullest.
Unlike anything you have seen before, or will likely see again, Swiss Army Man wholeheartedly embraces its own unique path. A funny, touching, and dizzying experience, the visually dazzling film has many interesting things to say about friendship, family, love, and all the things that make life worth living. It may be unabashedly crude and childish, but aren’t we all at various points in our life. After all, life would be so much more rewarding if we just embraced our similarities and stopped worrying about our differences.
Swiss Army Man opens in theaters on Friday, July 1, 2016