“If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.”
If my best friend won’t fart in front of me, what else is he keeping from me?
Swiss Army Man was labeled by critics as “the farting corpse movie” at Sundance where it received controversial reactions at it’s festival screening. The juvenile humor in the movie prompted walkouts from audience members, but what they missed was the rewarding satisfaction of one of the most insightful explorations of a life some of us may have forgotten.
Sometimes it takes a flatulent corpse to remind us what it means to be human and why the simpler aspects of life are sometimes the most important. All farting jokes aside, Swiss Army Man is one of the most original movies I’ve seen in a very long time, but some viewers don’t want to give it the time of day.
The reactions were no surprise to directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) who knew they were fighting an uphill battle with their unusual yet wholly entertaining and original script. They departed Sundance with the Best Directing jury prize and explained, “We like to think of our movies as orphans. They’re bad ideas that no one else wants to make.”
Weird, wonderful, disgusting, demented and divisive…why pursue this story?
Swiss Army Man is an unusual fable about Hank (Paul Dano), a suicidal castaway, who befriends a farting corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) while stranded in the wilderness. Together they formulate an unbreakable bond and embark on a surreal journey to get home.
The indie is directed by the music video duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka Daniels) who became globally recognized with their music video for Lil’ Jon’s Turn Down For What in 2013. The video currently sits at 507,616,752 plays on YouTube and wouldn’t seem like the predecessor for their artistically whacky first feature film.
“From very early on, love was a theme. We have all these ideas about love and all these ideas about farts. And then the common ground that we found was that you shouldn’t be ashamed of love. That love is possible when you can kind of be your true self and kind of – and overcome your shame and that, like, that’s – that’s some of the most honest experiences we’ve had where – when someone can help you break down a wall and help you be more yourself, that’s just the most powerful, wonderful part of a relationship.” Director Daniel Scheinart via NPR
While the story may sound offbeat, what makes it work is the combination of music, cinematography and most importantly – Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Our imaginations are stretched when we discover that Manny possesses supernatural powers; he’s a human Swiss Army Knife, but his memory seems to have forgotten the life he once knew. Hank’s two goals are to get them both home and to resurrect Manny’s failing memory of life – both heartwarming and gut-wrenching. They remind us that the little details of life can have the greatest impact and define what it means to be alive.
Both performances by Dano and Radcliffe are some of the year’s best thus far, but it’s Radcliffe who seems to have captured the heart’s of many critics. Harry Potter who? Radcliffe has graduated from the role that defined him and is proving his worth as an actor.
IndieWire even boldly argues that Radcliffe deserves an Oscar for his performance (or least an Oscar nod). “Manny’s arc is all on Radcliffe, and it’s an amazing acting achievement. On top of all that, Manny is a role with no map. There’s no archival footage
to study. No research to rely on, no source material to scour for clues. Just the question: How would a person behave if he awoke in a body with no memories, no movement, and only one friend in the world? Radcliffe’s soft blue eyes grow sad as Manny asks, “If my best friend is hiding his farts from me, what else is he hiding?” With this vulnerable delivery, the Daniels’ dedicatedly silly dialogue packs an emotional wallop that presses tears from moviegoers who were racked with giggles just moments before.”
This is a polarizing film that some people will love while others will hate it. It’s simply an amazing take on life, loneliness and personal identity. The film stumbles at times trying to be too weird and uncomfortable, which is one of my few gripes about it. Someone pointed out that it’s a film that looks for depth and symbolism where there is none. If you’re shortsighted, you’re not going to catch this film’s beauty, but give it a chance, and you’ll be rewarded.