If there was a weirder movie to make… you could still make one, but this was a pretty weird one too. Did anyone else get a CAST AWAY feel to it, except this time Wilson talks? But it’s pretty obvious this is far less dramatic than the Tom Hanks film and looks like it will rely more on comedy and creativity, rather than survival drama. There’s great potential here and I was pretty excited to see what was in store. Plus, Paul Dano is usually in pretty solid flicks, so it’s hard not to be curious. And who isn’t a fan of Daniel Radcliffe? So, does the movie make you believe that a corpse could be your best survival buddy, or should this have been lost at sea? This is my honest opinion of SWISS ARMY MAN.
The story follows Hank (Paul Dano), who at some point had crashed his boat and wound up on a small island. With little hope of survival, he decides to try and hang himself. But before he can, he sees a body (Daniel Radcliffe) wash up on the beach. Hoping the man is alive, he races to him, only to discover… he isn’t. But he also discovers that the corpse has a very odd special power… the body vehemently farts, enough for the body to jet-ski across the ocean, which Hank uses to escape his island. Winding up on another beach entirely, but convinced he’s close to home, he still ends up lost. Unable to be alone a second time, he drags the body along for companionship and eventually names it Manny. To make things even more bizarre, Manny starts talking. Unable to decipher if he’s totally insane or not, Hank doesn’t care and eventually embark on a fun and quirky journey back home, and figuring out what life is all about and why it’s worth it along the way.
If you looked at this movie and thought it was weird… yes. Yes it is. And if you thought the farting would be there throughout the movie, it’s not. Well… it sure takes up a good chunk of the screentime, and definitely overstays its welcome… without giving anything away, there is an actual point to it all that makes it not only tolerable, but… almost thought-provoking. Summed up, I think this movie is great, but if the weirdness doesn’t engross you in the first ten to fifteen minutes, then your chance to get your refund is after the title of the movie appears. I do however recommend soldiering through it because it is a heart-warming and fun little story.
First of all, like many actors who make a living off of playing the same quirky characters, Dano is wonderfully weird. Which happens to be a theme of the movie: being weird but embracing the unconventional and Dano is flawless. Hank is definitely embodies someone who tries to be more incorporated into what society thinks is normal, often talking to Manny about certain behaviors that “normal” people don’t do, but even when questioned, Hank usually has half-assed or uncertain answers.
I want to continue to talk about Hank, but that’s going to be difficult considering that much of him is brought out by the other half of the movie, Manny. One would think that playing a corpse would be an easy (and quite possibly pointless) gig, but having Manny talk the way the he does when his head is in a certain angle, imposing on his natural speech, it’s unbelievably funny. Manny is a talking dead guy (nope, he’s not a zombie) who doesn’t remember his life and almost serves as the living embodiment of everything that Hank questions in life, due to the many general questions he has. For example, “Life. What is that?” Hank has to really think about it and occasionally justify it to Manny, who is almost always uncertain of Hank’s answer and has a ton more questions, usually to the dismay of Hank.
You can probably tell that the story is very character-driven and Dano and Radcliffe are incredibly funny and share wonderful chemistry, and you feel for Hank who has given up so much on himself and needs this talking corpse to pull him through. You feel for Manny who seems to piggyback on Hank’s memories and gives him a drive to see his life through, despite the hardships and possible rejections. It’s like actually watching two best friends interacting, constantly talking about things you don’t just talk about with random people.I love watching these two interact and their weird connection, it’s wonderfully done.
Now, it’s time to talk about the ending. You know what to do if you haven’t seen the flick. CTRL-F, then type *** until you see END SPOILERS.
I have to admit, the ending was a little hard for me to swallow. The entire movie, the audience might accept that this body has weird farting super powers because we know that technically, yes, bodies to still crap themselves and release their bowels after death. Not this much, obviously, but… you just sort of accept it (if you’ve gotten past the titles anyway). But the entire movie, you just know that Hank is crazy for thinking that Manny is talking and having conversations with him. You accept this too because, well, when you’re as this detached from society, having such low self esteem, suicidal tendencies after a boating accident, yeah, you can imagine this sort of thing happening. Hell, if we can cry after Tom Hanks loses a volleyball at sea, this seems downright tame.
Here’s the thing, I spent the entire damn movie acting like the “artistic” critic, analyzing the relationship between the two characters, “Oh, this conversation is symbolic of this,” or, “The reason this is happening is for this reason,” you know, that shit. But then the last fifteen minutes happen. I spent the last hour and a half thinking this whole journey in the forest was symbolic of Hank accepting death and as he died hanging himself on the island, it wasn’t his life flashing before his eyes, it was the life he needed. He needed someone to love him, and he found a corpse who became his best friend. And what happens? They make their way back to a suburban neighborhood. They come in contact with real people. To make matters even more confusing, Manny is still talking. As in… the little girl they first meet actually sees him talking. Manny’s liveliness wasn’t imaginary. It was all real.
I mean, later on he’s put in a body bag and Manny never says another word for the rest of the movie, but the people Hank and Manny come in contact with are exposed to his… liveliness. Yeah, I didn’t know how to feel about this at first. I thought it was an artistic cop-out, but… then I started to chew on this ending for a bit on the way home. I was chewing on it the next morning. And then it hit me. This movie had set it up from the start. Think about it. The movie set it up from the very beginning that it would be “that” movie. A man who farts hard and long enough to be jet-skied off of a deserted island back to civilization (kind of)… that’s the opening scene. We accepted the farting jet-ski (most likely), we accepted the talking corpse, we accepted Dano in a dress and a whacked out feminine wig (to be fair, I doubt Mary Elizabeth Winstead could pull off the slow-mo, sunlight lens flare walk half as well as Dano did), so why can’t we accept that the reality they established from the very beginning would turn our expectations inside out like that. In a way, this is kind of a twist for me. I knew Hank was crazy. All conventional stories would have made him crazy. But… he wasn’t. It’s as simple as that. It’s a subtle mind-blow, but it’s a mind-blow nonetheless.
There’s no skating around it, this is a weird movie. Like, really weird. But you know what, the fact that it’s weird is the whole point. And even the obnoxious farting that I usually hate in movies has a point to it, and a pretty thought-provoking one too. That’s the best way I think of the movie. It’s a challenge. It took a lot of my preconceptions of what the story would be and ended up playing with them. In retrospect, I love movies that do that and still make a fun and unconventional story about friendship and survival. In short, I think it’s great and I really like it. I think if you’re in the mood for an offbeat comedy with a similar premise to CAST AWAY, I think you’re in a good spot. I think it’s worth a shot if only to see what all the hubbub is.
My honest rating: 5/5
PS: Happy Independence Day, America! (Yes, I watched INDEPENDENCE DAY with my family while eating grilled hot dogs. #Murica)
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