Strange & Beautiful: SWISS ARMY MAN
One cannot deny the hilarity in the opening sequence of SWISS ARMY MAN and those of you who have seen it know what I’m talking about that is of course if you have that kind of sense of humor. Being this film was distributed by A24 it makes sense because in a similar vein of obscure hilarity they also distributed THE LOBSTER which was an awesome film!
Aside from the slapstick gassy gimmicks there’s something strangely familiar about what the filmmakers did with this narrative that made me time travel back to the days of childhood which was all about play time, make believe, and fantasy. I remember the days on the playground with other friends that we were also stranded on a deserted island and we found absurd ways to survive. SWISS ARMY MAN (directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the Daniels) is precisely that, not meant to make you roll your eyes and say this movie makes me feel weird. I urge you to adjust your thoughts and look at it through the eyes of someone with an imagination. And maybe that’s what happens when you grow up, the façade of Santa Claus, the Boogie Man, and simple toys that occupied your time slowly faded away into indifference. After all, often times kids are told to “grow up”. Although I think most of us are children at heart, missing and yearning for those simple days again where you could prance along without a care in the world. Okay getting too philosophical.
Anyways, there is this funny homage to JURASSIC PARK which I totally love. For instance, when both Hank and Manny hum the iconic song together (to the part where the dinosaurs make their big appearance onscreen). It’s kind of that a-ha moment when Manny starts to understand and remember what being on a bus means in a beautiful sequence that kind of hints at Hank’s life prior to being isolated on an island.
In all seriousness now, one of the central themes to this dark comedy resides in Hank (Paul Dano) who’s marooned on a little island somewhere in the Pacific who no longer has the will to keep living until a decomposing, farting corpse Manny, (Daniel Radcliffe) is washed up ashore. Suddenly, there’s this curiosity to live but to Hank’s surprise he’s just a corpse with unusual bodily powers that give Hank the urge to live. From first glance it does feel like he’s hallucinating or the whole occurrence is some wildly bizarre dream. Nope. The narrative thrives down a spirally path where a man befriends a corpse which kind of makes that tagline “There’s no place like home” from the WIZARD OF OZ ring a strange bell in terms of defining what that home is to himself. What’s the point of living if all we’re doing is buying time distracting ourselves from the inevitable? As this narrative continues we learn towards the end ( I’ll try not to give it away) is gut wrenching, almost like getting punched in the heart, but nevertheless, Hank’s character learns something about himself and I can understand how the audience may feel let down. It’s a well written ending, is all I have to say.
Aside from the ending, some of my favorite sequences are oddly enough the musical numbers that ensues especially the song about popcorn when Hanks discovers Manny’s ability to create fire. They have a party with vodka, a bonfire, popcorn, and what better than a silhouette puppet show of popular films from E.T. to SUPERMAN? It’s hysterically entertaining and singing about popcorn well it’s the simplicity of humming that brings joy to these two lost souls. Sometimes when life gets you down, you sing, dance, write, and create art with every fiber of your being because that’s what human beings do aside from pursuing love and friendship. It’s like these two are each other’s band aid until suddenly the conflict of both of them obsessed over the same girl gives the story that extra flair. But isn’t that life? Conflict keeps life interesting.
Another defining aspect of this film is intricate set design, made from garbage and recyclables which definitely gives the film a distinct style but ultimately makes sense given the situation our characters are in. Talk about taking a refurbishing to a whole different level. It’s so crafty!
Ultimately, I’m surprisingly amazed this film was made and its originality is what makes it shine and unique take on exploring the human soul in all it’s loneliness and confusion. It’s not necessarily deemed a feel good movie, but ironically made me feel good with laughter and shake my head with partial shame but that’s the beauty of having a simple film with complex overtones dealing with tough subjects, such as suicide, depression, loneliness, and finding a way to work through it. As odd and outlandish as the plot is I couldn’t help but hum along with the catchy, silly songs, and watching Paul Dano wear a makeshift dress out of garbage and play the part of Sarah was quite amusing but mainly because as an actor he knows how to play awkward characters with great finesse. I’m always intrigued by the characters he plays and well Daniel Radcliffe playing the role of a corpse is just pure gold. I can only imagine the challenges of not laughing throughout the entirety of the film while pretending to be a corpse.
While this appears to be geared more towards a guy’s feel good buddy film with the fart jokes and hilarity behind our body parts, there’s something charming about the Hank’s ability to rediscover his humanity through Manny who’s trying to comprehend it. I recommend this film, just check your maturity at the door but you may also realize it could reconnect you with your humanity.