Come for the fart jokes, stay for a surprisingly touching tale of the power of human connection and life lessons. By now many have seen the trailer for Swiss Army Man and sussed out that it starts Paul Dano as a suicidal man stranded on an island who finds companionship in the farting corpse of Daniel Radcliffe who has washed up on shore. But there’s much more to the film than just what you see in the trailer.
Dano stars as Hank, a man stranded on an island who has reached his end when no sign of help is in site. Just as Hank is about to hang himself, he spots the body washed up on shore, but attempts to save the unknown man played by Daniel Radcliffe prove unsuccessful. The only sign of life is the body’s involuntary flatulence. And while initially despondent, Hank eventually notices that the flatulence continues as has propelled the body back into the water. It’s not long before Hank rides the body through the ocean, escaping his isolated confines. Sound odd? It is, but it’s also the first of many handy ways that the body serves to help out Hank as he attempts to return to safety.
As their journey continues, Hank and the body wash up on the mainland, but are still miles away from civilization. Over time, the corpse begins to speak and reveals his name to be Manny. But Manny’s state has left him mostly unaware of how life works, with Hank doing his best to try to spark his memory. The more Hank engages him, the more Manny comes back to life, all the while proving to be a key to Hank’s survival. Through their interactions, we learn that Hank has gone through life afraid. With a mother who died early in his life and a father who was hard on him, Hank has lived a passive existence unable to even speak to a lovely woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he spotted on a bus, who is one of the combined inspirations for Hank and Manny to return to civilization and give life another go.
The film, directed and written by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, is both humorous and touching, yet also thought provoking as Hank’s revelations about life to the inquisitive Manny make us reconsider what society’s considers normal and weird. It should come as no surprise that the film has a truly bizarre ending with Winstead’s character Sarah offering a “What the f–k?” comment. But for anyone who followed the film’s progression from start to finish, it somehow makes sense and left some in the theater this reviewer attended hysterically laughing.
Daniels, as they are billed in the credits, have been building a steady resume of short films before graduating to this full length feature and you can feel some of that sensibility in Swiss Army Man. It feels like a short, but the hook is one you don’t want to end and fully sustains throughout. Credit should also be given to Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, who created a film score that truly services the movie with a mix of human noises that’s instrument free — not an easy task. Hull also gets a cameo in the film as a cameraman late in the feature. And Dano delivers another brilliantly odd turn that starts with apprehensiveness turned into vulnerability, while Radcliffe’s skills for physical comedy shine throughout.
Yes, there are many questions. How does Manny talk? Is this all in Hank’s head? How is Manny able to function in so many ways? But it doesn’t really matter. Swiss Army Man is a journey worth taking, so embrace the absurdity for all that it’s worth and enjoy the fart-propelled ride.