By Darin Skaggs
Anyone who has a best friend, and I mean honest to God best friend knows it does not happen on purpose. There is no strategic way to gain one. You won’t walk up to someone and ask “Do you want to be best friends?” That is unless you are looking for a punch in the face or frightened look. When you actually become friends with someone it happens so fast and out of nowhere. When you reach a level of comfort and trust, you will not know a life before that person. You will be able to tell them anything without any hesitation, show your emotions in their presence and most importantly, you will be able to fart in front of them. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, or as they refer to themselves, the Daniels have made Swiss Army Man in which all of those themes and more are explored while telling a hilariously weird and fantastic tale.
Swiss Army Man opens with Hank (Paul Dano), a man who is stranded on a small island who is about to hang himself with a comically long rope. He sees a body lying by the shore. Relieved he goes to check it out disappointed to find it’s just a dead corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on the beach. If things could not get worse the corpse is passing gas. He then proceeds with his suicide until he realizes that the flatulence is so powerful he might be able to use Radcliffe as transportation to get back to the main land. This certainly sets the tone of the film. If you are not on board with the slow motion of Dano riding happily on Radcliffe’s speeding body as his face is blank than you will not be on board for the rest of the film. If the movie has grasped you at this point than you are in luck for a surreal, wacky treat, because that is only the first five minutes of the film. The other ninety minutes or so is a crazy, almost love story between Hank and this dead body that either from Hank’s starvation or some sort of beautiful miracle starts talking.
All that I just described is strange. Like I said some people will not be able to get into it and honestly it is not for those people. It is for the people that think a noose as tall as a giraffe is funny or if you find a supposedly dead corpse singing along with the film’s soundtrack charming, the movie might just be right up your alley. The film is a love letter to the strange, it is for those who do not want to be viewed as weird, but also want to just be themselves. The movie accomplishes this by fully committing to being the strange and weird movie that is promised in those first few minutes. Radcliffe is the “Swiss Army Man” becoming a source for clean water as it pours out of his mouth or being given the Heimlich while holding pebbles in his mouth to shoot fish for a food source. The movie is this way, probably from its directors who are also the writers of the picture. They seem to be making this for “outcasts” for hope for an easier childhood and just becoming okay with who they are. Either way the statement is beautiful, it might just be the most perfect way to say “Just be you.”
While being just plain odd that should never undercut that the film is a top notch comedy. The body starts talking about fifteen minutes in the movie and every moment that Radcliffe has after that is played perfectly and the lines are delivered so well. You can see this once dead guy is relearning how to talk. He is asking so many questions, he is a curious corpse, that you also realize is relearning emotions. Dano is great as well, you feel the real sadness and you also know whatever got him to this depressed state has made him kind of a jerk. You feel for him in that sense that when he is rude, you just know it is from his insecurities. The cinematography, as strange as it is to say, is gorgeous. The sun shines perfectly through the trees like it’s trying to outdo The Revenant. The characters are perfectly dressed. Radcliffe spends the movie in a suit that almost fits, but is not quite right. The movie has so many charming touches that it is hidden behind all the strange. Even the garbage seems meticulously placed to get us to feel a certain way.
For most of the film’s runtime it is a question if Radcliffe’s dead character is really talking. It may or may not answer that actual question, but one of the most brilliant parts of the film is that either choice works as character development for both parties. If this is all real and the corpse is talking then the movie is about two people who find each other, become best friends and change each other’s confidence. Radcliffe claims several times in the film that love brought him back to life. He is referring to a girl that is the wallpaper for Dano’s phone, but when you look at the friendship of Hank and the body it could be a metaphor for how Radcliffe’s character was in a serious depressed state and when these two came together he feels living his life again, instead of just not doing anything.
If this is all in Hank’s head, then it works as Radcliffe being his conscience and Hank becoming okay with who he is. It even has him work out his negative elements like how he could be kind of a creep with the girl in the phone or that he is more like his overbearing father than he’d like. The corpse is spouting out hilarious lines, but they also work as what Hank really thinks of himself. Sometimes the statements are negative and most of the time they are just positive and mostly forgiving of Hank. Through the first half or so of the movie Hank argues with the nice things that the dead body has to say, but he fights less and less with them as the movie goes on. I feel it’s a little a both, you can believe in either one, but nevertheless these are beautiful statements about humanity, friendship and the curse of self-hatred. Swiss Army Man is absolutely amazing. I honestly cannot believe how funny, insightful and most of all beautiful the film is.