SWISS ARMY MAN
Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on shore; the two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired? Absurd? Silly? Genius? Surreal? Fake? Well, in short, unique. The story cannot be taken as naturalistic, given that drowned men don't come to life by farting. Indeed, farting is this man's metaphor for how to change one's life 'one fart at a time'. Lest you think I'm being flippant, there are several scenes where farting (and others of belching a fountain of water) provide the propulsive fuel for the narrative. And sometimes for the two characters. In one such scene, Hank (Paul Dano) uses the dead Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) as a jet ski on the ocean - a fast one.
Indeed, nothing is quite as it seems. The desert island where a despondent, hungry Hank tries to hang himself but is interrupted by the body on the beach - later self-identified as Manny - turns out to have been a fantasy, perhaps. It is from here that Hank hitches a ride on the corpse to another island, closer to habitation.
The film's physical progress is accompanied by a conversation that grows more and more existential between living Hank and dead Manny. But useful as he is in some survival situations, including an angry bear - Manny is new to human life. He doesn't know, for instance, why he gets an erection (whatever that is) when his dead eyes' glance falls onto a bikini-clad pin-up in Top Sports magazine. His death seems to have wiped his 'self' and his memories. This is not a revelation to us the living, of course, but it's used as a tool to investigate the human condition.
If we consider Swiss Army Man as a fable, we might approximate what it is trying to say - which would help us engage with the film and swing our way through some bizarre aspects. The apparently simple questions posed by Manny often go to the heart of modern living, but Hank is unable to answer satisfactorily. That's also the film's shortcoming: it tries to saddle naturalism and surrealism, never really gaining foothold in either reality or unreality.
As the relationship progresses - and they move through the woods - we see hundreds of items that Hank must have constructed, from dolls and models to a jungle cafŽ and objects to fill it. We never see any of this being made, it all springs up like a miracle, motivated by Hank's appreciation of Manny's company. Any company, even if dead. If only the filmmakers could have conceived a less realistic resolution - although the final shot is pretty surreal.
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SWISS ARMY MAN (M)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Timothy Eulich, Richard Gross, Marika Casteel
PRODUCER: Miranda Baily, Lawrence Inglee, Lauren Mann, Amanda Marshall, Eyal Rimmon, Jonathan Wang
DIRECTOR: Daniels (Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)
SCRIPT: Daniels (Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larkin Seiple
EDITOR: Matthew Hannam
MUSIC: Andy Hull, Robert McDowell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jason Kisvarday
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 14, 2016