I’ve seen a lot of weird movies in the nine years I’ve attended the Sundance Film Festival, but this year, I may have seen the strangest one yet.
It involves friendship, a dead body, and a lot of flatulence.
“Swiss Army Man” is a comedic action-drama that stars Paul Dano as a lonely guy who, while sailing one day, gets swept up in a storm in the Pacific Ocean and is washed ashore on a deserted island. Daniel Radcliffe is the dead body that washes up at the moment when Dano’s character, Hank, is about to commit suicide.
We’re not even close to the weird part yet.
Directed by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), who are best known for their music video and commercial work, the duo have created for their feature length debut a movie that highlights what it’s like to be a recluse and not taking chances in life — a topic not uncommon to Sundance Film Festival entrants. The story plays out in a fashion that’s funny, touching, but most importantly, original.
Let’s take the film’s opening 10 minutes, for example.
After he comes across the dead body, Hank gives this touching speech on how his hopes have been dashed that it isn’t a live person, because he’s so lonely and is desperate for human contact. But as he opens up in this revealing moment, the dead body passes gas.
It’s funny; Hank even finds it amusing, but the body does it again. Even as Hank prepares to try suicide again, the body continues to pass gas.
The body then gets pulled into the current and moves further into the water — because of its relentless flatulence. Eventually, Hank sits on top of the body and floats it like a jet ski off the island. The music in the background is triumphant, Hank is cheering as he moves farther away from the island. Is this all a dream?
That’s a question you’ll be asking yourself often as the body doesn’t just use its bodily function to help Hank out of his predicament, but as Hank continues to search for civilisation the body turns into a multi-purpose tool for Hank. The body chops wood with its arms, can start fires with its fingers, is a source of hydration as it spews water out of its mouth, which Hank drinks.
Importantly, over time, the dead body begins to talk. Manny, the body’s name, is curious about everything and Hank is happy to have someone to share his life with. Hank talks about what he wants to do when he returns home to reunite with Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Hank and Manny build little moments from Hank’s memory with sticks, brush and trash found in the woods. But there are moments where Hank is too shy to go through with talking to Sarah, and tries to make Manny understand that doing almost anything instinctively will make a person look weird.
“Swiss Army Man” is a look into the side of ourselves that’s too weird to be revealed in public. But, what the Daniels show here, is that the eccentricities in us that we suppress may be our best self. The Daniels just chose to drive home that point by creating a silly film with A-listers in it.
And that’s the best part of this movie. Because the Daniels were able to land top-shelf talent in their gonzo movie like Dano and Radcliffe, it makes your chances of seeing “Swiss Army Man” outside of the film festival world that much greater. So get ready.
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