Swiss Army Man (2016) Review

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7.5/10

In which Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse.

Hank (Paul Dano) is marooned on a small island, and is ready to commit suicide. Just as he is about to hang himself, he sees another body washed on the shore. It’s Daniel Radcliffe and he’s dead. Hank tries to reanimate him, which causes the air that is trapped inside the rotting body to exit as a fart. As the dead Radcliffe insists on farting all through Hank’s solemn remembrance, Hank sees that the body is actually propelling itself through the water.

Thus starts Hank’s adventure with this multipurpose, flatulent corpse. Realism has no use in this story. This is real absurdist comedy, especially since the story of Hank’s lonely journey is played completely straight. While Hank is moving the corpse through endless abandoned beaches and forests, the desperate journey is accompanied by a never-ending stream of fart sounds. I guess there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think Swiss Army Man is hilarious, and those that think it is childish. I am happy to say that I am one of the former.

We already know from Cast Away (1994) that abandoned people can form meaningful relationships with inanimate objects. Hank and Radcliffe form quite the relationship. In a brilliant sequence, Hank explains to the corpse what life is all about. He talks about facial expressions and the outside world and love and everything, all the while animating Radcliffe’s face and body like a puppet. And then the story becomes more than just a cast-away tale. The whole situation of Hank arguing with a corpse becomes a vehicle to talk about life in general.

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It’s a hilarious, playful script. I think we’re supposed to think that the conversations between Hank and the corpse all take place inside Hank’s head, and that he’s essentially arguing with himself. Still, we see the dead Radcliffe speaking uncomfortable truths and making outrageous suggestions. He does a good job looking dead. His eyes are all off. And Paul Dano is one of the most underappreciated actors of our generation. He is always magnificent.

We never really get an answer to the question whether Hank brings the corpse back to life. Many questions are never resolved, which may throw you off. It continuously hints at deeper meanings and metaphors, but none of that really crystalizes well. The film leaves it in the middle, but I think that the corpse is simply there to reanimate Hank’s life for a short moment.

Since the story essentially focuses on only these two actors, that makes the story nicely small and contained. By the way, this thing is written and directed by the same two guys, and considering what a weird little movie this is, that is no surprise. Try to explain this story to a director and then make something coherent out of it. Only with the writers in full directorial command can you make a concept like this succeed. Both directors/writers are named Daniel, by the way, and the opening credits say that this is a film by “Daniels”.

You got to have respect for directors who want to try something different. This movie was definitely a risky project. It’s not designed to bring in the cash, but I suspect that all the people involved had a blast of a time and that the directors just really wanted to make this and have fun with it. Still, only recommended if you like Dano and Radcliffe as actors and if you like your movies experimental with inconclusive messages.

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