If you are a follower of this blog then you will be aware of my interest in films that possess a certain quirky sensibility. I love a movie that makes me think and that makes me question what I am seeing on the screen. Recently I watched a movie that falls directly into this category. The movie was a 2016 release called Swiss Army Man. Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano, who you may know from his star turn as the silent teenager in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It also stars Daniel Radcliffe, who you may know from a little film and book series where he played a character named Harry Potter. Swiss Army Man was directed by two men named Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. The Daniels, as they are known in movie circles, won the Best Director prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival for this film. They also recently won three Academy Awards for writing and directing the movie Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Their awards were all well earned.
Simply put, Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique and beautiful and thought-provoking movies I have ever seen. It is a movie about falling in love, but it isn’t a romance movie in the Hallmark sense. It is a movie about friendship in which one of the two friends is a corpse. It is a movie about loneliness in which the lead character is rarely alone. Finally, Swiss Army Man is about harnessing the flatulence we all have inside of us for the good of our souls. This movie is, at times, silly but also very poignant and moving. It is filled with love and imagination and generosity of spirit. The final ten-fifteen minutes will blow your mind and make you reevaluate what you thought you knew about the movie up until that point. The closing scene ends with a preschool-aged child laughing uproariously, her mother mouthing, “What the f*ck!?” (which stands as the closing line in the film), as Daniel Radcliffe roars out to sea like a human jet ski. I kid you not. And what’s more, it all makes perfect sense and will leave your heart filled to overflowing.
A large factor in helping Swiss Army Man to have the emotional feel that it does resides with the musical score. There are no hit singles on this soundtrack. In fact, there were no instruments used in the creation of any of the twenty-four tracks used throughout the film. All twenty-four tracks were made exclusively for the human voice and for human sounds. By that I mean a capella singing that doesn’t often use real words, and hand made sounds such as percussive clapping and banging on found objects like plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. The entire soundtrack was scored by a band out of Georgia called Manchester Orchestra. The voices that you hear throughout all twenty-four tracks belong to lead actors Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. The resulting music sounds joyous and uplifting and aligns perfectly with the action on screen. Like the very best musical scores, the one used in Swiss Army Man can be felt in every second of action and dialogue contained in the movie, and yet, it is unobtrusive. If this movie can be considered as life, then the soundtrack is its breath. To give you a sense of how unique and glorious this movie powered by flatulence actually is, I am going to stop this post now and ask you to listen to a track from the film called “Montage”. It is not important that you understand the references contained in the middle of the track. What I want is for you to get a sense for how this music makes you feel as you listen to it. There is no story to this song and barely any lyrics, and yet it may just give you goosebumps. If that happens, then this movie is for you. Let’s stop and have a listen to the track called “Montage”. Click here. ***PS: There is no lyrics version because there are no lyrics per se in this song. It is mainly just sounds. Trust me. It is wonderful. Go. Listen.
Without giving too much of the movie away, the story starts on a deserted island with a man named Hank (played by Paul Dano) about to commit suicide by hanging. As he is about to step off of a cooler and hang himself, he opens his eyes one last time and discovers a corpse has washed up onto the beach. That corpse belonged to a man named Manny (played by Daniel Radcliffe). Hank, who wished to see his life unfold before his eyes as he drew his final breath, instead finds himself dealing with a corpse that has the propensity for farting loudly and with great frequency. Hank discovers that Manny’s farts have the power to propel himself through the water so Hank mounts Manny and rides him across the ocean with unbridled joy. What unfolds from this point is a buddy movie, of sorts. Manny comes back to life (Was he ever really dead? Is he actually alive? Is Manny still dead? Is Manny even real?) but does so with the mind of a small child. Hank tries to help him rediscover his identity by teaching him about life. Together, the two men travel together through the forest/jungle in an attempt to get back home, whatever “home” means. Along the way, there is scene after scene of imaginative role-playing, inventive use of found objects (trash) that litter the landscape and instances of personal growth and acceptance and of true, deep-rooted love. The core message of the film is that the path to personal happiness is found through love and acceptance of self. Combine that message with the glory of the music integrated into every scene throughout the entire length of the film and you really have something that will move you and make you look at your life a little differently afterwards.
Dano and Radcliffe are alone on screen for ninety-five percent of this movie and both do a magnificent job of acting. Although Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse, this movie is no Weekend At Bernie’s. It is so much deeper and better than that. If you need a comparable, Swiss Army Man combines the absurdist imagination of a Terry Gilliam movie with the deserted island character study of Tom Hanks in Castaway, combined with a movie like Fight Club but without the bare knuckle brawling. It is a movie about mental illness and depression, love and friendship, a girl on a bus, a bear, a father’s approval, but most of all, it is about finding peace with who you actually are inside and not giving a “toot” what anyone else thinks. I watched Swiss Army Man online through a streaming service called TubiTv.com. This service was free but contained approximately a half dozen one-minute long “commercial breaks” along the way. It felt like I was watching network television from the old days. The commercials didn’t bother me at all, so if you feel like checking this movie out, you can do so via Tubi. I hope that you do give this film a chance. There are very few like it that I have seen. As bizarre as my post may make it seem to be, Swiss Army Man is easily one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. I loved the story and all of the many layers it contained. I loved the music and how seamlessly it enhanced the emotional storytelling at play. But most of all, I loved how deeply satisfying it was to watch the finale of the film and revel in the beauty of a tremendous reveal. Never has the story of a lonely man and his flatulent corpse friend been better told and enjoyed than in Swiss Army Man. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Swiss Army Man can be found here.
The link to the official website for Manchester Orchestra can be found here.
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