Swiss Army Man (2016)

brooke First things first–people kept calling this the “farting corpse” movie at Sundance but I had no idea what a vital point the farting is to the story.
Also there’s a joke about butt plugs, so you know it’s good.

casey Swiss Army Man is weird. Very weird. I’m not sure I liked it, but there’s definitely more to it than flatulence.

brooke The movie tells the story of Hank (Paul Dano), who, when the movie opens, is stranded on a desert island. He’s just about to give up hope and hang himself when he sees that a corpse has washed up on the beach nearby. This dead body, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has the ability to propel himself across the water, jet ski style, with his flatulence, which Hank uses to ride to the shore of a remote mainland forest. Then the body starts to talk (his name is Manny), although he doesn’t remember much about being alive. Hank starts carrying Manny around and finds that Manny has a number of abilities he can use to survive (hence the film’s title). As they become friends, Hank also teaches Manny about the intricacies of fitting in by reenacting scenes from his life.

casey The movie embraces a kind of dream logic where the viewer isn’t led to question the “reality” of Manny’s quasi-resurrection, his abilities abilities or Hank’s sanity. They’re all taken at face value. Instead it’s more interested in weighty topics like what it means to be alive, have friends, fall in love, and other indie movie tropes. Even fart jokes play a role!

brooke There is a music-video-esque quality that conveys a feeling of impermanence to every scene. Hank knows he can’t live forever in a forest with a corpse, but he has escaped from reality long enough to take a good look at the life he was living before he was stranded.

casey It sounds interesting, but mostly I came to find the pervasive strangeness off-putting, repetitive, and excessively twee. Radcliffe does a lot with a role that precludes movement or emoting, but his performance can’t carry the whole movie, and I got tired of Dano’s neurotic, whiny Hank.

brooke Well, Hank is a socially awkward person. He doesn’t do well in the real world, and his time with Manny forces him into a level of self-examination that few people actually achieve. It feels like his magical time with Manny might lead to his character having a more balanced future. Of course, it could be that I’m just taking the movie too seriously.
I get what you mean about it feeling off-putting, but I thought it was fantastic. The elements of magical realism made a strange film into a very fun one.

casey Another thing worth mentioning is the movie’s ending. Without giving too much away, let’s say that it suddenly replaces the surreal forest setting with something more grounded and unsettling when it forces Hank to encounter real people again. I can’t say I enjoyed it–it dials up the awkwardness to eleven– but it was unexpected, if nothing else.

brooke The return to the real world is actually what makes the rest of it work so well for me. The pair metaphorically falls on their faces in the realest “back to reality” moment I’ve ever seen. It simultaneously acknowledges the beauty of their weird friendship and points out just how unsustainable the lifestyle of a loner and a corpse living as castaways in a forest was. If you don’t appreciate it, I can’t make you, but I absolutely loved it.

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