BY: EMMA B
“Normal” is an adjective that is applied to anything that is mundane, run-of-the-mill or otherwise beneath notice. While many people are taught and conditioned to seek normalcy in their public lives, pursuing this paradoxically results in losing the things that make a person unique or “weird.” Other than satisfying the public, what do people really gain from denying or suppressing their weirdness? It is with this idea in mind that A24 films and DirecTV came together to mutually produce Swiss Army Man, an absurdist comedy featuring a farting corpse as a focus point.
While the farting corpse is played by Daniel Radcliffe and later referred to as “Manny,” the other major player in the film is Hank, a shipwrecked man portrayed by Paul Dano. Swiss Army Man features a handful of other actors, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, however this film is mostly a story between Dano and Radcliffe’s characters. The film is co-directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. While it was initially screened at Sundance and later given a limited release, Swiss Army Man was released in theaters nationwide on July 1.
The first three minutes of the film are enough of a window for a viewer to know if they would be interested in this film; not every audience is going to feel comfortable watching a man ride a farting corpse like a jet ski. Indeed, the first two-thirds of this film consists entirely of segments that could serve as a collection of sketches on “Saturday Night Live” or “Funny or Die;” the film’s title is derived from Hank’s use of Manny’s body as an organic multi-tool. Once Hank gains Manny as someone to talk with, Hank goes over how much he misses a woman named Sarah and shows countless photos of her on his phone. Manny agrees to help Hank make it off the island and back to civilization.
Swiss Army Man embodies many elements of magical realism, possibly as a response to all of the serious events going on in the real world today. Actual corpses don’t contain sufficient gas to start a fire with a fart, let alone have the ability to laugh about the act afterward. Manny serves as a naive soul curious about society and, if the audience can get over the fact that the Swiss Army Man’s world is not like ours, highlights some aspects of human society that many of us gloss over or simply ignore.
When addressing the presentation, the filmmaker’s choice in music and overall visual aesthetic works well in directing the audience’s mood for each scene. Dano and Radcliffe do have excellent chemistry, especially once Manny displays the ability to talk, but the bizarre premise and memorable scenes do a disservice to the duo’s award-worthy back-and-forth. One wrong step in any performance or delivery would’ve made this film a very pretentious, sour experience, yet the sheer joy of the actors’ performances keep the film from ever going there. This film also serves as another notch in Radcliffe’s esoteric filmography after his days as the be-scarred young wizard Harry Potter.
A treatise on the merits of oddity and weirdness in our lives, Swiss Army Man is a highly unconventional film. It certainly isn’t boring, and its utter strangeness makes for an experience that hardly leaves audiences regretful for having seen it. The numerous unexpected twists are sufficient to keep the film thoroughly unpredictable and will likely encourage the need for a second viewing just to better understand its layered message