I never thought a film about a farting corpse would make me cry.
Swiss Army Man (2016) is a fantasy dramedy written and directed the ‘Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Scheinert). It stars Paul Dano as Hank, a man stranded on an island about to hang himself when a farting corpse with strange abilities (played by Daniel Radcliffe) washes to shore. Using the decomposing body as his very own “multipurpose tool guy”, Hank begins to find his way home while also bringing the body of ‘Manny’ slowly back to life.
I went into this film with several conflicting preconceptions. While the premise and trailer won me over, the story that viewers at the Sundance Film Festival walked out of the premier forced me to temper my expectations. But what greeted me was something I never expected from a film about a flatulent corpse. Swiss Army Man is a bizarre bonanza of originality and soul that managed to both demolish my expectations, and succeeded in bringing me to tears.
Yes, this film is weird. Correct, farts may be an integral part of the story. Indeed, it is incredibly easy to label this film as ‘immature’ and ‘nonsensical’. But if you were to do so, not only would you miss one of the most unique film experiences this year, but an incredibly sincere and profound message about life will pass you by. Through the imagination and invention of having a corpse with special powers (such as a penis that acts as a compass and a mouth that doubles as a machine gun), the Daniels have managed to touch upon elements of society, how we live our life and yes, how we deal with farts, in a way that had me tearing up with joy as the credits rolled. And I wasn’t the only one. As the finale to our grand adventure came to a close and the credits began to role, my cinema sat in stunned silence. I could hear sobbing behind me. And this is all from a film that opens with a dead body getting propelled through the water by its flatulence.
At the core of this bizarre endeavour is the performances of Dano and Radcliffe. Dano is remarkably solid as the average-but-awkward Kent desperately attempting to return to civilisation after so long alone. His arc is the crux of the film’s message and Dano handles it all with a balance of authenticity and goofiness. However, its his rapport with the corpse of Radcliffe that really elevates the film’s emotional heft. From the Boy who Lived to the Corpse that Farts, Radcliffe is exceptional at playing a dead man rediscovering the world for the second time, selling all the wonder and excitement of his character while never forgetting he’s actually supposed to be dead. If it wasn’t for this duo, the emotional core of this film falls to pieces, and its their exchanges and (what feels like) genuine friendship that had me sniffling from one awkwardly poignant scene to the next.
Special mention also goes to Swiss Army Man’s score. Andy Hull and Robert McDowell did an incredible job of making music that parallels the film perfectly – unique and goofy while still being wonderfully moving. Using manipulated voices emphasised by beating drums, it is arguably my favourite score so far of 2016. Its highlights range from a sung rendition of the Jurassic Park theme to a montage song that quite literally describes everything occurring on screen.
My expectations shattered, Swiss Army Man may stand strong throughout the rest of the year as one of my favourite films. While at times it can come off as immature and infantile, its poignant message of freedom and friendship is done in such an offbeat and memorable way that its likely to stick with me for a long time. My advice, watch the trailer. If it repels you, don’t bother. If it intrigues… you have quite the experience ahead.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Must See
Art Housers: Highly Recommended
Cultists: Must See
Winner of the 2016 Batsie Awards for Ace in the hole and Mad Love.