No man is an island. No film captures that sentiment better than this one.
There isn’t any point explaining Swiss Army Man to the prospective viewer. Suffice to say, suicidal Hank (Paul Dano) spots a farting, soon-to-be talking corpse as it washes up on a deserted beach (Daniel Radcliffe in fine form). Kicking off a unique relationship with the loud-mouthed, lifeless figure, even beyond this highly unusual premise the film is abundantly original.
Profoundly and deceptively clever, to expand significantly on Swiss Army Man’s thematic depth would be to take away from the intoxicating thrill of seeing its ideas so accomplishedly rendered on screen. Seemingly drawing inspiration from any number of critically-acclaimed hits including Castaway, E.T. and the more recent Melancholia, writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert skewer those films’ greatest abstractions and take their concepts to a new and rambunctiously brilliant place.
In time, once viewers have had an opportunity to digest this, critics and academics will take apart Swiss Army Man, extolling its whims and virtues as a treatise on adolescence and for the numerous things it says about its main character’s cognitive dimensions. Incidentally, as of recent, larger aspects of the Sydney Film Festival program – which hosted the first Australian screening last night – have been opened up to film enthusiasts under 18 years of age; supremely appropriate for a film that will speak emphatically to a younger demographic with its big-hearted and exuberant approach to the travails of growing up.
More importantly, this film revels in its players’ individuality and not-so-obvious abilities, smartly refusing, along with its central figures, to apologise or attempt to colour aspects of a character which would typically only be rendered abnormal by virtue of a less than common temperament. Instead recognised for their incessant wherewithal, unashamedly deployed here to amazing effect in a slew of laugh-out-loud sequences, Swiss Army Man invites you to see things from a different point of view, a point of view that some who see this film will broadly identify with and appreciate for the imaginative and affectionate treatment of its often poorly-handled subject matter.
Yes, that might seem like a roundabout explanation, but to take away from the surprising and very moving ending would be a crime. Swiss Army Man asks you to join it in a fantastical but supremely relatable world and suspend notions of typical civility in order to recognise the outrageous relevance of that which could ordinarily be dismissed or otherwise reviled, as well as the not insignificant effects, for anyone, of living in isolation.
It is the type of film that will make you want to talk to someone on the street on the way home instead of looking at your phone, or join in with an infectious laugh in the cinema in response to many of its wondrous moments. Knowingly eschewing everyday sensibilities, its unmitigated puerility forces the viewer to confront dimensions of its characters not everyone is going to be au-fait with, as seen in the later stages of the film, that have their own discernible if underappreciated value and deserve to be understood.
The recurring farting gags, not included for their apparent inanity, is only one element that crassly yet effectively helps further this seemingly irreverent picture as a discerningly intellectual reflection on the insurmountable value of aspects of a person’s character wholly natural, normal and often misunderstood.
Alternately, this is a film where Paul Dano rides Harry Potter as a jet-ski, a bobsled, gets his corpse drunk and pushes him off a bunch of very high places. Open to appreciation on many levels, if the kind of bromance that its two creators could easily have dreamed up while drunk at a bar and trying to one-up each other in the ridiculous stakes sounds like your kind of thing, then go watch this film where Paul Dano high-fives and fist-bumps Radcliffe’s bleating corpse – you’ll love it.
Swiss Army Man is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival
Swiss Army Man on Film Fight Club