**** out of ****
Readers, be warned: My support of this movie should be taken lightly. There is a reason why Swiss Army Man has become infamous for walkouts and pissed-off viewers. Call me a contrarian, but I was incapable of leaving the theater auditorium at any point.
Distributor A24 continues to battle against banality with the ambitiously unconventional movies they’ve acquired. While their recent release of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster turned me off for trying to find life in lifelessness, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited as “Daniels”) have made an emotional testament to madness in their first feature-length film and I love it.
The story’s main character is a castaway named Hank (Paul Dano) who is marooned on a small island at the beginning. In a state of surrender to his hopeless situation, he attempts suicide before finding a body (Daniel Radcliffe) washing up on the shore. In the beginning stages of decomposition, the body is releasing flatulence and Hank gets the idea that it has enough buoyancy and propulsion emitting from its rear-end to function as a speedboat, which he successfully rides to the shore of a greater landmass.
Still with me?
After dragging the body to the safety of a cave during a rainstorm, Hank realizes that it also has the ability to dispense the fresh water it’s absorbed like a faucet. After Hank engages in enough one-sided conversations, the body begins to talk back with a slow drawl. Assuming the name of Manny, a man with no memories or understanding of the world, the body coaxes Hank, through incessant questions, on the details of life, humanity and existence.
Hank continues dragging his new useful friend Manny along on the search for civilization while feeling forced to reveal his deepest thoughts and feelings, from the motivating glory of John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme, to haunting stories of masturbation.
Now let me put all of this in context. The movie stages interactions between Hank and Manny in a way that is so ludicrous, that the whole experience could be interpreted as the life of a mind that is trying to cope with solitude and survival. Instead of a tiger named Richard Parker or volleyball named Wilson, our hero is projecting all his personal dwellings on life through the unflattering vessel of a corpse he’s named Manny.
The performances show real devotion and the filmmaking manages to capture more rich beauty out of these happenings than one might expect. The gorgeous Northern California locations (including Sequoia National Park) are captured with excellent cinematography and the bizarre acapella score seems to recreate the way one may choose to hear grandness in their own lonesome humming.
At the beginning I was amused that the movie was willing to commit to its idea. When the movie ended in a state of early-eighties Spielbergian glory without ever having abandoned its premise, I was laughing very hard in a state of disbelief. Someone let this happen.
Swiss Army Man finds a line between earnest human expression and flat-out nihilism as it farts against the waves of normalcy but embraces the beauty of cinema all the same. The movie is a giant life-affirming prank of a film. Thinking of how much it may have angered people makes me like it even more.
You made the right decision in reading more than just the star-rating in this review, so think it over before going to see a movie featuring a rotting magical dead guy who may taint your memory of “the boy who lived.”