Swiss Army Man (2016)
I have not laughed so much during a film in a longtime, the only films that come close are The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) both of which had me in stitches throughout. Two very different comedies, one pitching a little higher, the other a little lower Swiss Army Man (2016) hits somewhere in between, that can’t be a bad thing can it? With the bonus of Paul Dano who is always in roles that are never mainstream, going for the more interesting roles that keep him fresh and for the audience more excited about what he’s going to do next. He has definitely found a niche in the vulnerable man thought which never gets old or tired. I wasn’t so excited about Daniel Radcliffe who I’ve never really been a fan off, in terms of acting, so this may sound harsh but he was perfect for role of the corpse. Of course he share his character with a puppet double, ensuring all the new-found abilities don’t harm him.
Swiss Army Man is one of those films that rarely comes along, in a world where we have franchises, reboots and sequels this is a much-needed breath of fresh air, an indie film that has set the screen and really has rounded off a good weekend. The concept of a film, a man lost on a desert island who finds a corpse who slowly comes back to life with the added bonus of coming with special abilities such as enough gas to act as a speed boat, to a throat that doubles as a projectile when the bodies straightened.
Of course this film is much more than flatulence jokes and erections, which actually don’t get tiresome, all delivered with great and natural timing that make this all the more fun. What makes it better is that a corpse is responsible for half the jokes. We have a film that begins at the lowest point for Hank (Paul Dano) whose about to commit suicide, all ready to kick the box from under him when he spots Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who washes up on the shore of the desert island where the film begins. The lowest point of the film is literally the very beginning as life is about to end for one when it has already happened for another, how can the film really move on. And so begin the fart jokes. We have come along way from the farts of Blazing Saddles (1974) when the first sounds were uttered around the campfire. Of course that’s just one element in a film that has so much more to offer.
With a corpse whose slowly waking up learning from Hank about life and what it’s all about. It’s a two-way relationship as Manny is reawakening what it is to be alive in Hank who had all but given up on living. It could be really depressing really but it’s anything but, its uplifting as they both are rediscovering what it is to be alive. You don’t even know as the audience that you’re being told to appreciate being alive.
Filmed entirely on location that’s littered with everything imaginable, these two guys are living off man’s trash. This is Cast Away (2000) in the woods, but Wilson has become a corpse that is able to hold a verbal conversation unlike that of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) who befriends this basketball, externalising the best his can with an object that only stares back him for the better part of the film. A two-way conversation allows for comedy, personal growth in both Manny and Hank who are equally flawed, feeling unable to function in the world.
We see flashes of Hank before he found himself in the middle of nowhere (in the islands of the Pacific Ocean) teaching Manny to function again. Passing on his own flawed human ideas to a corpse that is at first a child who grows up innocent of the human condition, is ready to take on the challenge that is life. Whilst Hank is always holding back, we can tell from his phone he has a girlfriend back home, yet he really know very little about women or sex, yet Manny soon picks it up.
I was inspired for a time to make a piece of work based on the film as they two men travel through the island building structures that act not only as shelter but as tools of learning about modern life from the bus, to a cinema, you could easily map out and build this pieces in miniature. Might just do that one day. Yet the twist of an ending leaves me not as I had with Life of Pi (2012) when the film could be seen as fact, a preferred version of events. I am left instead confused by what has actually happened. Paired with a raw and original capella soundtrack that relies mostly on the two leads from anything that gets stuck in their head to theme tunes to films they grew up with.
I know that a beautiful relationship has taken place, however the premise is pulled from under us. Hank is finally revealed, first to Manny in his first about the girl on his phone, being human is being honest with yourself and those you love, reality is something we just have to deal with. I won’t spoil as my head is still processing what actually happened, yet I don’t feel cheated, it adds another layer to everything. Film is an itself an illusion and I have well and truly fallen under its spell here, left feeling exhausted with laughter, overjoyed too by the positive yet confusing and emotional ending that tells you to go out there, grab life and make the most of it.