It started with a fart joke.
And yet, Swiss Army Man is a lot more than a simple fart joke, and it’s not just about a highly functioning zombie that doubles as a Swiss Army knife and has some unusual skills. But if I were to summarize what the movie is about, those are the exact things I would mention first. Fart jokes and a formerly dead person whose farts can make him jet ski and whose erect penis doubles as a compass.
When I entered the cinema that day I saw Swiss Army Man, I was already quite sure I will leave the cinema as a very confused person. I was right, and this seemed to be the general theme of everyone in the pretty much empty screening of Swiss Army Man – confusion. Though I guess half of that confusion was caused by the movie itself, most of it was its ending, that almost made sense and then suddenly didn’t.
Hank (Paul Dano) has been stranded on an empty island for a long time, and he has given up.. so Hank decides to hang himself. During that moment of humming a tune, he suddenly notices a body that has been washed up on the shore. After being alone for god knows how long, he feels as if this body is somehow a solution to his loneliness, and well, he hopes the man is still alive. And that happens to be the case, though it takes a while, the body, later known as Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), opens his eyes and their adventure to go back home begins.
The movie explores various themes, which are somewhat hidden amongst the big magical realism element, and two of the biggest ones are friendship and social norms. Now, in terms of friendship, not only do we get to enjoy the brilliant Dano and Radcliffe interact, but we get to enjoy this while Radcliffe pulls of probably the most authentic dead-alive-person ever! And although it looks weird, and seems too much out there, having the chemistry between these two guys is definitely the highlight of the movie. The social norms is a sort of a different kind of discussion, and it is embedded into the movies core – some things, like farting, is not something that we do in front of people. Pickup lines do not involve something like I want to put my penis into you, and etc. And it’s quite interesting how these topics are discussed towards a character who has forgotten his past life.
Now, I won’t go into the plot anymore, but I do want to talk about the ending, which I think somehow almost saves the movie and yet decides to destroy it right after. So, in case you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend to skip this part:
The ending was sort of amazing, because it made so much sense to have Hank out of his mind and to have imagined the whole thing in his head. It fitted the movie, it flipped the whole movie on its head, and it was the twist I was sort of expecting, but most of all needed to make the movie stand out as something real, rather than surreal. That is probably because I’m not a big fan of magical realism (Big Fish being one of the exceptions), and I needed a more realistic closure. So it would have been great if Hank really had imagined everything, that Manny was actually dead, and his whole adventure was actually his own imagination. Swiss Army Man almost gave us that, and then it decided to destroy that illusion with Manny’s farting and I’m a little disappointed. I feel like having us enjoy their weird friendship and then stating that Hank was crazy, would have had a much different impact, but I guess it wasn’t what Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheiner had in mind.
Overall, Swiss Army Man, and pretty much everyone will agree, is a weird movie. But I also think nobody can deny that for Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheiner, this is a pretty great first full-length movie. And even if you end up disliking it, you can’t deny the fact that Swiss Army Man is weirdly odd and funny, and sometimes the weird and the odd are actually a lot better than the big and the messy! So even if bad, Swiss Army Man is still somehow better than the rest, and the performance of Daniel Radcliffe alone is something to marvel at. Just don’t expect to understand it completely because I’m not quite sure that the movie is fully aware of itself either.