When leaving the theater after seeing Swiss Army Man, I overheard two responses from other members of the audience that really stood out to me. The first was a woman turning to the man she was with and saying, “Don’t blame me. You forced me to choose the movie without knowing what we were seeing. This one was my second choice because the first one was sold out. Don’t blame me.” I can see this being a common response to this movie, but I find it to be a misguided one, because this is an incredibly unique experience, it’s strange, for sure, but very, very rewarding to someone who’s willing to put thought into what it was they just witnessed.
Swiss Army Man is a film about a man named Hank (Paul Dano) who is stranded alone on an island, and just as he’s about to kill himself a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach. When this dead body starts doing things that dead bodies shouldn’t be able to do things get interesting for Hank and the audience. Swiss Army Man is a movie that deals with the scatological and the grotesque. Farts, erections, masturbation, poop, and plenty of other uncomfortable subjects are put on full display for the entire running time. This is a movie that does everything it can to make its audience feel uncomfortable by holding up a mirror and showing just how much of our life is involuntary and how much we keep secret.
The movie features really only the two men (there are quite a few other characters, but none of the others show up until the final stages of the movie), well, one man and a corpse, as they make their way home from being stranded on the deserted island. Dano and Radcliffe each give an incredibly brave performance as they bare everything but their bodies (and Radcliffe even does a bit of that) to the audience. A great performance can inspire empathy and understanding, but these performances are downright intimate, making you see bits of yourself in them that you may not want to recognize. It’s no wonder that there were reports of people walking out of this film at Sundance even though it took home top honors for directing at that same festival.
The second response that stood out to me as I was walking out was a man letting out a laugh of absolute glee and excitedly announcing, “Farts are life affirming!” You get it, audience member number 2. That is absolutely the message Kwan and Scheinert are trying to get across to us. By showing us the innocence intermingled with the twisted of a corpse trying to come back to life through the unintentional efforts of a man driven insane by loneliness, we somehow end up with the ultimate feel good movie for misfits. Swiss Army Man shows us that so much of life is outside of our control that it’s often for the best to just let it happen and enjoy whatever ride it brings to us. We may not understand it, it may not even always be what’s best for us and it surely isn’t going to always be enjoyable, but what’s the point of trying to force our lives to be something they’re not? Giving up is not good, but allowing ourselves to be what fate makes us into is not the same thing as giving up. That seems to be the message Swiss Army Man is trying to show to us, and it makes for a much better use of gross out humor than any stupid R-Rated teen comedy has ever given to us before.
Swiss Army Man is first and foremost unique, it’s also completely grotesque, often weird, uncomfortable, and confusing. But, somehow that mix manages to make for one of the greatest feel good movies to come along in ages. It’s a movie that shows us as human beings we almost never get what we want and we are constantly alone and confused. But if we look at those things and realize that that is exactly what makes us human and binds us all together in a common experience, then we can get on with living the lives we are meant to and not the ones the world tells us we’re supposed to live.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10