Swiss Army Man, shown at a discounted screening at I.V. Theater this past Friday, is a film that starts with a ten-minute long, if not longer, fart joke. But it’s also a film that uses that fart joke as plot progression and later on, as an indication of character development. It makes absolutely no sense to someone who hasn’t seen it but once you have then you’ll understand that Swiss Army Man, like the title suggests, is a film filled with surprises hidden within a single idea.
This movie is a simple but unique take on the castaway/survival genre. It is an odd comedy drama about a man named Hank Thompson, played by Paul Dano, who gets stranded on an abandoned island. He later finds a corpse named Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who helps him get back home with his strange tricks and talents.
This film’s humor is largely defined by all the strange things Hank can do with Manny. The film does not only open with Manny farting for several minutes, but the very first scene ends with Hank using Manny’s farts to propel him like a jet ski. Then throughout the film, Manny gets a few erections, and Hank soon finds out that the erection is a compass pointing towards home.
As juvenile as this humor is, it oddly adds to the depth of this film. Not only do these gross bodily functions serve a practical purpose, but they also address how we as a society deal with uncomfortable subjects. Hank and Manny have conversations about these subjects, exploring these deep topics through dark, cynical humor. This brand of humor would have not have been successful without its talented cast.
The most notable cast member of this film would undoubtedly be Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe brings an extraordinary amount of life into Manny, despite him being a dead corpse. He makes everyone laugh with perfectly-timed one-liners and makes everyone cry with clear expressions of longing for a life larger than Hank’s. His main purpose in this film was not only to be a “Swiss army man” for Hank, but to also teach Hank how to be a human and how to live his life to the fullest, which is a lesson you wouldn’t expect from a corpse who constantly farts and gets erections.
However, Manny would not have existed without Paul Dano’s brilliant performance as the lonesome traveler Hank Thompson. Dano does a great job of portraying Hank’s complexity by making him pathetic and awkward, but also lively and creative, and overall just relatable.
Hank’s presence helps ground the audience to this odd film by also bringing Manny to life. Hank further brings Manny to life by explaining the real world to him through movies, music and personal narratives. Hank might be lonely and excluded from society but he still manages to portray the world through beautiful designs and performances.
This film explores the importance of love, but the greatest love story in this film is the one between Hank and Manny. Although the very idea of necrophilia should scare away any viewer, the film manages to portray their relationship as heartwarming rather than creepy. Their relationship was never only about surviving the wilderness, it was about figuring out that finding a person who cares about you is more important than finding a way to fit into society.
At the end of Friday’s showing at I.V. Theater, one of the co-directors Daniel Schneider was there for a Q&A session and helped give the audience an understanding of the filmmaking process. Schneider offered a lot of advice to aspiring filmmakers about what the Hollywood film industry is like and how he transitioned from an online filmmaker to a first-time full-length filmmaker. Essentially, what he advised to everyone is that writing and filmmaking is a very difficult process, but if it’s fun and creative, and if you put in enough time and effort, it will be worth it in the end.
It was clear that Swiss Army Man started off as a silly idea, but with enough effort, work and consideration put into the film’s meaning, it turned out to be something more than just a comedy.